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Helping Children Through Trauma and Catastrophe

First created in response to 9/11, this guide will help you ensure children feel safe through turbulent times and tragic events. Caregivers and first responders, click the button below to download the full guide. Or, scroll down to find a topic specific to your needs.

Together we have an obligation to raise and educate a generation of healthy, vibrant children who live in the world with confidence and wisdom, understand the natural world, and are committed to making the world a better place.


- Jim Greenman

Late Senior Vice President, Bright Horizons Family Solutions

What Children Need: Pillars of Security

There’s nothing more basic than the need to feel secure. We feel secure when the world is safe, predictable, and manageable, and we depend on four pillars of security to help us face life’s struggles: people, places, routines, and rituals.




Types of Trauma
Trauma can include everything from society-shaking events, natural disasters, and other large-scale tragedies, to individual life challenges such as house fires, a search for shelter after eviction, and the death of a parent.




Emotional Needs Throughout Trauma
Trauma leads to emotional reactions, changes in behavior, emotional shock, and even post-traumatic stress disorder. The first step in helping children cope with catastrophe is to sort through our own feelings and get the support we need.




Understanding and Supporting Children Through Stress and Trauma: Ages and Stages
Children view the world through their own unique lenses at each stage of development. They have their own sensitivity to change, unexpected events, and distress, and they respond in their own ways and with differing intensity. 




Answering Children’s Questions About Natural Disasters
Children will wonder about hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, and more. And during and after these disasters, they may ask about leaving home, why parents aren’t feeling like themselves, and how to cope while missing a relative, friend, or pet. 




Answering Children’s Questions About Death

When children ask why people (or pets) die, the answer is a developmentally appropriate version of “Everything that is alive dies sometime. Death is a part of life.” You can create a climate of security with thoughtful responses — and the way you react matters, too.




Answering Children’s Questions About Race and Prejudice

Children may wonder why disaster victims shown in the news are often dark-skinned. They may ask why people say bad things about people they don’t know — and why people are treated differently due to the color of their skin or their beliefs.




Helping Children Grow and Thrive
Children learn from how people and communities respond in times of crisis, and it’s important for adults to model thoughtfulness, kindness, courage, and more. Expanding children’s knowledge through teachable moments can help grow good people and good citizens.




Supporting Professional Caregivers Through Grief
Children and families seek comfort from caregivers after a loss, and staff who feel emotionally supported create warm, nurturing environments. Build community and encourage healthy emotional expression so caregivers, themselves, can find the support they need.