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Safety, food, shelter and medical care

Helping kids psychologically recover from the impact of the natural disasters that have hit the United States and its territories, along with the Caribbean islands is complicated. This article provides tips and books to help kids psychologically recover from the disastrous hurricanes. Many are paying appropriate attention to the immediate and necessary needs of shelter, food, and medical care. Helping kids psychologically recover includes providing safety, getting children back to school, and creating stability in children’s lives, which are all critical and well under way. Counseling and mental health providers and centers have also opened their doors to families to provide professional support.

Distress symptoms can be common after a natural disaster

Clearly, the sooner we can re-establish homes, schooling, food, and routines for children, the sooner they are likely to psychologically recover. However, it is not unusual for children to show signs of distress even after their living situation is stabilized. Witnessing and surviving a natural disaster could lend itself to symptoms of anxiety, depression, and even post-traumatic stress disorder. Although most children will recover, we need to continue to pay close attention to children’s emotional and psychological needs, anxiety, and fears.

Risk factors

Children may be at higher risk for anxiety, depression, behavioral issues, and post-traumatic stress disorder if they:

  • Lost a loved one
  • Lost their homes
  • Lost a pet
  • Witnessed someone die or be injured
  • Continue to live in shelters or transitional housing
  • Have to move from home to home
  • Are not be able to attend school regularly
  • Do not have family and social support
  • Continue to experience significant stressors, such as changes in schools, homes, financial and living standards, friends, and isolation.

Signs and symptoms of distress

Children, particularly younger ones, may not be able to identify or verbally express their worries, confusion, fear, anger, or even questions about what happened and what will happen next. Some common signs and symptoms of distress to watch out for include:

  • Sleep disturbances
  • Nightmares
  • Bed wetting
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of motivation
  • Social withdrawal
  • Irratability
  • Changes in appetite and weight
  • Poorer academic performance
  • Opposition and defiance
  • Separation anxiety
  • General anxiety
  • Excessive sadness and moodiness
  • Excessive tearfulness

Tips and books:

If you notice your child demonstrating some or many of the above and it continues over time, you could consider the following tips and books to foster healing and recovery:

  • An evaluation by your school psychologist, pediatrician, or a mental health provider in your community.
  • Ask your child open ended questions about what they remember of the hurricanes and the flooding: What do you remember seeing? What do you remember hearing? What do you remember feeling? What do you remember thinking?
  • Ask your child what they might be worried, sad, scared, or mad about now?
  • Validate children’s feelings and invite them to ask you questions.
  • Children often worry about their own safety and the safety of their loves ones after a traumatic event. Reassuring them that they are safe, with a proactive safety plan in place (shelter, nutrition, school, bedding, etc.), can help kids feel calmer.
  • Try to create consistency and routine in your children’s lives. Predictability lends itself to a sense of control and efficacy.
  • Teachers, pediatricians, and school psychologists, who are the front line professionals, can be proactive in asking children and parents how they are doing. Providing appropriate referrals and resources to families can be enormously helpful.
  • Parents hit hard by the hurricane and floods may be exhausted in trying to get their homes and lives back to together. Supporting neighborhood parents with food, car pools, sleep overs, homework help, and after school activities can make a huge difference for families.
  • Reading a coping, therapeutic book with your child can also significantly facilitate coping and resilience. There are a few exceptional books that focus on traumatic events, including, Flood, Once I was Very Scared, and A Terrible Thing Happened. An excellent resource for young kids struggling with a traumatic death during the hurricanes or other traumatic events is Where Did My Friend Go?
  • Parenting books on helping children cope with anxiety and stress can also be an excellent source of guidance.
  • Invite your children to draw pictures and write letters to share their thoughts and feelings with you and their loved ones.
  • Engage your children in healthy and fun activities. Getting back to sports, dance, music, art, baking, hiking, and alternative exciting activities can be very therapeutic for children.
  • Reach out to resources in your community and share your needs. It takes a village to help kids thrive, and after the disastrous hurricanes, many have and will open their homes and hearts to you.




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  • Exceptional, impressive, thoroughly 'kid friendly' from beginning to end, "Family Changes: Explaining Divorce to Children" should be a part of every community library Parenting Studies collections. For families with young children who are having to deal with divorce, "Family Changes: Explaining Divorce to Children" will prove to be an invaluable and instructive aid.

    Editor in Chief - Midwest Book Review

  • Those of us parenting, working with, or caring for children experiencing divorce will welcome Family Changes as a unique, positive, and creative resource for helping children understand and cope with this complicated transition. The comprehensive note to adults effectively explains how children work through painful questions and feelings. The touching story—with the endearing Zoey and her attempt to understand a very grown up topic—ends with extremely helpful follow up questions that will be highly valued by parents, child advocates, therapists, and others who wish to better serve children during this difficult time. I highly recommend this book to parents and professionals.

    Sacha Coupet, Ph.D., J.D. Clinical Psychologist and Associate Professor of Family Law, Loyola University, Chicago, IL

  • Family Changes: Explaining Divorce to Children is an outstanding book that is gentle, positive, and validating for both children and adults. With an excellent and informative parent guide about the value of talking to children about their feelings, a highly sensitive and engaging story with exquisite illustrations, and an effective list of questions that children typically ask, this book is essential reading for divorcing families, and for therapists and advocates working with children of divorce.

    Sandra A. Graham-Bermann, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology and Psychiatry, University of Michigan

  • Family Changes is an inspiring and exceptional book on divorce. It explains divorce in a developmentally appropriate and comforting language that validates children's complex feelings about divorce. Dr. Maker's expertise and years of experience working with children who are coping with the grief and confusion that often accompany divorce shine through in every page. I highly recommend this book to divorcing parents, schools, libraries, and professionals working with children of divorce.

    Martha Crowe, M.A. Child Development, Institute for Public Health, San Diego State University, CA

  • Dr. Maker has brought us this excellent child-centric educational book about how to navigate the changes of a family undergoing divorce. Dr. Maker takes us through this experience from the child's point of view and shares the gift of positive transformation that can occur during this life-changing time. The illustrations are sublime and the topic is handled so gently and ingeniously. Of course, it is written by a child psychologist with the gift of creativity. It's a book that every child therapist, library, school, and families going through a divorce should have on their shelves.

    Krista Royabal, M.D., Psychiatrist, Executive Medical Director, True Life Center for Wellbeing, CA

  • Based on the typical emotional turbulence a child feels from separation or divorce, Family Changes receives high recommendation as the first title that adults should turn to in the effort to explain, explore, and support a child's feelings in the matter, concluding with a list of 'process questions' which adults can use to further enhance the story line's overall approach.

    CA Bookwatch/Donovan’s Literary Services/Recommended Reading

  • The story touches on several key issues that children worry about - will their parents still love them, will they have two homes now, did they somehow cause the divorce, etc. The book also opens with a straightforward Note to Adults and ends with a list of questions that adults can discuss with children. Often books that do a good job of explaining divorce and separation are so focused on the child's point-of-view, that they don't offer any advice for the parents, caregivers, and teachers that are trying to help the child makes sense of it all. Family Changes avoids that problem and gives good guidelines for adults. I would recommend this book to parents and other family members, educators, and counselors.

    NetGalley Reviews/The Fairview Review - Librarian

  • This story is filled with little moments that reflect the nature of children perfectly. If you need to explain what it means to be divorced or separated to your child then this is one of the best ways to do that. The book is filled with relatable emotions and questions that a lot of children will have if their family is going through a separation. Dr. Maker’s years of experience are evident in the story as she masterfully addresses many common concerns for children experiencing a divorce in their family.

    The Littlest Bookshelf