A Child's Reaction to Disaster by Age
Below are common reactions in children after a disaster or traumatic event.
Birth–2 years: Pre-verbal children can't describe the event or their feelings about it. However, they can retain memories of particular sights, sounds, or smells. As children get older, their play may involve acting out elements of the traumatic event that occurred several years in the past and was seemingly forgotten.
Ages 3–6 years: Preschoolers often feel powerless in the wake of a disaster. As a result, they feel intense fear and insecurity about being separated from caregivers. Children this age cannot grasp the concept of permanent loss. In the weeks following a traumatic event, preschoolers' play activities may reenact the incident or the disaster over and over again.
Ages 7–10 years: The school-aged child has the ability to understand the permanence of loss. Some children become intensely preoccupied with the details of a traumatic event and want to talk about it continually. This preoccupation can interfere with the child's concentration at school, and academic performance may decline. They may display a wide range of reactions--sadness, anxiety, specific fears of the disaster happening again, guilt over action or inaction during the disaster, anger that the event was not prevented, or fantasies of playing rescuer.
Ages 11–18 years: Children in this age range respond to disasters almost like adults do. To cope, teenagers may become involved in dangerous, risk-taking behaviors, such as reckless driving. Others can become fearful of leaving home. A teenager may feel overwhelmed by intense emotions and yet feel unable to discuss them with others.