Bega Valley Shire CouncilBega Valley Shire Council

Helping Children with the trauma of Bushfires

Emerging Minds

This toolkit contains resources to help and support adults and children before, during, and after a disaster or traumatic event. It will help you understand some of the impacts of disaster and how you can help lessen these impacts.

APS Australian Psychological Society

Helping children who have been affected by bushfires.

Many children have been affected directly by recent bushfires, either having lost their homes and properties, or through being evacuated. Other children have experienced the fires indirectly, through hearing about them, or
knowing someone who has been affected. These can be distressing experiences for children.

Information for parents and caregivers

Impact of trauma on children

People cope with trauma in different ways and there is no one ‘standard’ pattern of reaction to the stress of traumatic experiences. Children are not always able to express complex feelings in the same direct way that adults do and therefore do not often show the same reactions to stress as adults. It is therefore very important to look out for changes in children’s behaviour that suggest they are unsettled or distressed.

Reactions to the trauma of the bushfires may result in changes to children’s normal behaviour such as:

  • Changes in their play, drawing, dreams or spontaneous conversations
  • Regressive behaviour – children behaving younger than they normally do
  • Nightmares
  • Anxiety about sleeping alone
  • Trouble getting to sleep
  • Irritability or anger
  • Tantrums
  • Fussy eating
  • Withdrawing
  • Wanting to stay close to a parent
  • Problems concentrating at school

Children are usually very resilient and for most children these reactions will gradually reduce over time with the support of families.

How you can help your children recover

After a traumatic event, children need comfort, reassurance and support, and to know that they are safe and are being looked after. Try to spend more time with your children and provide them with plenty of affection through cuddles and hugs. Sometimes children can better express their feelings through play than through words, so make time to play with them. Let them be more dependent on you for a while and try to re-establish daily routines,
for example routines around mealtimes, bedtimes or returning to school where possible.

Find out what your children know in case they have mistaken ideas or facts about the bushfires, and correct any misconceptions. Keep your responses appropriate to the age of your child and also appropriate to the child’s level of understanding and emotional maturity. Young children often needreassurance more than facts.

Listen to your children’s concerns. Listen closely to what they are asking or saying, and think about whether they are looking for factual information, or if the questions are expressing anxiety about the bushfires. Try to keep your own feelings to yourself when talking about their feelings. Let them know that you understand how they feel.

Monitor how much your children are being exposed to media stories of the bushfires. Children can become retraumatised by watching repeated images on the television and it is best to try to shield them from the media.

Be aware of how you talk. Adults need to be conscious of the presence of children when discussing the bushfires. It is a good idea not to let children overhear adult conversations about worrying things if they cannot join in at their own age or stage of development.

And most importantly, look after yourself as it is likely that you have also experienced the bushfire trauma. When parents are feeling cared for themselves they are better able to respond to the needs of their children.

Seeking further help

While most children will bounce back after a trauma, some children may show prolonged distress and could benefit from professional assistance. Children who are more at risk of developing more lasting problems are those who have lost family and friends, those who have been seriously injured or witnessed horrific scenes, and those who have developed problems in response to past traumas.

Warning signs of more significant and lasting distress in children include:

  • Continual and aggressive emotional outbursts
  • Serious problems at school
  • Preoccupation with the bushfires
  • Intense anxiety or emotional difficulties

A qualified mental health professional such as a psychologist can help such children and their parents or caregivers to understand and deal with the thoughts, feelings and behaviours associated with the trauma of the bushfires. Speak to your GP about a referral to a psychologist or phone the APS Find a Psychologist service on 1800 333 497. Alternatively, you can locate a psychologist in your area by visiting the APS Find a Psychologist website –

For more information about the APS disaster recovery resources please visit

Children's Hospital at Westmead

Understanding a child's response to trauma

  • What is a trauma?
  • Examples of traas that a child might experience.
  • What are common rea trauma?
  • How Parents Can Help?
  • Getting Help from Friends or Relatives
  • Telling Childcare or SchoWhen is it time to seek extra help?

If you feel you need advice or help for you or your child, you could talk to your family doctor, the school counsellor, local Community Health Centre or the Social Work Department or Department of Psychological Medicine at The Children’s Hospital at Westmead Tel: (02) 9845 0000.

Better Health Channel

Talking to children about bushfire risk

  • Bushfires are a common feature of Australia’s landscape. Messages regarding bushfire risk and preparation are increasingly accessible from social media, television, radio, fire danger rating signs, and general conversation.
  • Children can be affected by information regarding bushfire risk and they may become concerned about issues of safety.
  • Many children are inherently resilient and will benefit from being spoken to about bushfire risk and preparation.
  • Talking to children openly in a way that suits their age, while also involving them in decisions and actionsregarding bushfire preparation, will help them to feel emotionally secure and to be more confident during the bushfire season.

Visit Talking to children about bushfire risk

Life Line

Natural disasters like bushfires, floods, cyclones, drought and other traumatic ‘natural’ events are extremely challenging for the people directly affected. The stress caused following a natural disaster can lead to ‘burnout’ and physical, mental and emotional exhaustion. Some people will be able to manage the stress but for others it may be difficult to cope. Most people eventually heal and recover and go on to rebuild their lives.

Tool Kits

Helping children cope after a natural disaster

  1. Give your children extra attention and reassurance. Let them know they are not responsible for what has happened.
  2. Acknowledge your own feelings about the situation and let your children know its ok to share their own feelings.
  3. Include your children in plans for the future.
  4. Try to get back to a normal routine as quickly as possible. This provides a sense of security.
  5. If you don’t see an improvement in 4 weeks, or you’re concerned seek professional help (earlier if needed).

Where to go for help

  • Your GP
  • Psychologist/Counsellor




Lifeline Holding on to Hope podcast:  Brendan Cullen shares the strategies in his 'tool box' for coping with the effects of drought.  His story can be heard by searching Holding on to Hope wherever you get your favourite podcasts, or by clicking here and selecting Brendan's Story.

Life In Mind have created a comprehensive list of all bushfire resources available across the many organisations working in the mental health sector.


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