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Helping children cope with natural disasters


Children can be especially fearful during times of community catastrophe like the High Park Fire.

Mental health professionals at University of Colorado Health encourage parents to observe their children and watch for behavioral changes such as sleeping or eating significantly more or less than is normal. Children may also regress in behaviors, too. Bed-wetting or acting out may surface in children who otherwise do not often do so.

"The best thing adults can do for children during the High Park Fire is reassure them that they are safe," said Michael Gitter, clinical case coordinator at Mountain Crest Behavioral Health.

Gitter says letting children know that although things are different now, they will get back to normal.

"Children have a basic relationship with the world and they need a sense of safety," Gitter said. "Especially if they've been evacuated, they need to hear that things are going to get back to normal, soon."

Tips for helping your kids cope

Encourage them to talk with open-ended questions

  • Do you have any fears?
  • Are you having dreams about the fire?
  • Are you worried about people or animals affected by the fire?

Reinforce that they are safe

  • The first responders are fighting the fire and it will stop

Explain the truth of the situation

  • The forest will come back eventually
  • The responders are rescuing people 
  • Eventually the fire will be put out and things will get better

Model open communication

  • Talk about your feelings and thoughts about the fire with your kids
  • Reaffirm that you are safe 
  • Consider having your kids write a letter to an emergency responder or a child who was evacuated to tell them they support them

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