University of Illinois Extension
Disaster Resources - University of Illinois Extension

Children, Stress, and Natural Disasters:
A Guide for Teachers

Purpose of the Guide

The purpose of this guide is to inform teachers of how natural disasters can affect children's behavior and performance in the classroom, and what teachers can do to help children cope. By reading this guide, teachers will:

  • Have a better understanding of what children may have experienced as a result of a disaster, and what the short- and long-term consequences of these experiences might be
  • Be able to identify how children commonly respond to disasters and other stressful situations, and how these responses may influence children's classroom behavior and academic performance
  • Have a better understanding of how they might be able to help children cope with the aftermath of a natural disaster

A companion guide entitled School Activities for Children provides more detailed information on what teachers can do in their classrooms to help children cope with life after a disaster.

What Children May Be Experiencing

  • Trauma of the Event
  • Disruptions to Daily Living
  • Pile-up of Stressors and Long-term Strains


Children's Responses to Disasters

  • Signs of Distress
  • Who is at Risk?
  • Identifying Children Who May Need More Help


Implications for Teachers

The disruptions that children experience, and their possible reactions mean that:

  • Some children may not be ready to learn -- emotional distress may get in the way of academic progress.
  • Certain symptoms or learning difficulties may persist for a long time, especially if children are reacting to long-term family disruptions or strains
  • Some of the effects of long-term disruptions may not surface immediately; problems may not surface until weeks, months, or even a year following the disaster
  • Classroom management may be more difficult; teachers may have to deal with regressive, withdrawn, or disruptive behavior
  • Teachers may experience more than the usual stresses and strains in dealing with distressed children

Teachers may face even greater strains if they are having disaster-related difficulties of their own


What Teachers Can Do

  • Providing Safety, Security, and Support
  • Providing Classroom Activities that Facilitate Coping
  • Taking Care of Yourself


Additional Resources

Ebata, A.T. (1994). Helping Young Adolescents Cope with Stress. School-Age Connections, 6, 1-3.

Ebata, A.T. & Borden, L. (1995). Children, Stress, and Natural Disasters: School Activities for Children. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Cooperative Extension Service.

Faberow, N.L. & Gordon, N.S. (1986). Manual for Child Health Workers in Major Disaster. (DHHS No. ADM 86-1070). Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office.

Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). How to Help Children After a Disaster: A Guidebook for Teachers. FEMA 219/November 1991.

Gist, R., & Lubin, B. (Eds.) (1989). Psychosocial Aspects of Disaster. New York: Wiley.

Illinois Cooperative Extension Service. Supporting Distressed Young People (EHE-402, March 1988).

Illinois Cooperative Extension Service. The Rural Crisis Comes to School (RR-112, March 1986).

Lystad, M. (Ed.).( 1990). Innovations in Mental Services to Disaster Victims. (DHHS No. ADM 90-1390). Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office.

Myers, D. (1994). Disaster Response and Recovery: A Handbook for Mental Health Professionals. (DHHS No. SMA 94-3010). Washington, DC: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Saylor, C. S. (Ed.) (1993). Children and Disasters. New York:Plenum.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Plain Talk About Handling Stress. DSSH Publication No. (ADM) 85-502.

School Activities for Children

Go to Part II: School Activities for Children

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