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Large scale distressing events impact our school communities in many ways. Bushfires in our communities can be unsettling and stressful for many people.
Distress may be related to:
- having been directly at risk or exposed to fires (loss of homes, pets, personal belongings)
- being concerned about family or friends
- feelings and memories related to previous traumatic experiences
- other grief and loss.
Bushfires affect our students and schools in different ways. It’s important to recognise that almost all distress or behavioural change after such an event is normal. There is no such thing as a typical reaction.
Children react in different ways depending on age and personality. Some may show distress or they may ask many questions and appear preoccupied with the event. Some of these reactions may appear immediately but others may not show themselves for weeks or months.
Some reactions may include sleep disturbances, regressive behaviour (thumb sucking), nightmares, fear of the dark, clinging to parents/carers, loss or increase in appetite, physical complaints that have no medical basis, aggressive behaviour, competition with sibling for parental attention, withdrawal or loss of interest in regular activities.
Children look to the significant adults in their lives for guidance on how to manage their reactions. Parents and teachers can help children cope by remaining calm and reassuring them that they will be all right.
Importantly most children are resilient and return to their previous level of functioning over time.
Supporting your child through a bushfire crisis
- Monitor how much your child is being exposed to television and social media stories about the fires. Children can be distressed by watching repeated images. Explain to them that news reports will repeat images and stories and it may not be a good idea to keep watching.
- Find out what your child’s understanding of the event is and correct misunderstandings or confusion.
- Include your child in making plans for the future.
- Support your child to stay connected to friends.
- Keep to your regular routines and activities as much as possible.
Australian Psychological Society
- Mental health support for Australian students, teachers, and schools following large scale incidents (PDF 101KB)
- How to cope with the stress of natural disasters
Where to get help
While most children will bounce back after a traumatic event, some children may show prolonged distress and may benefit from professional help. School counselling staff are available to support students. Please contact your school to discuss.
If students would like to speak with someone anonymously, confidential sources are:
Hot days and the potential risk of more bushfires can lead to increased anxiety for many people. Children are also vulnerable, and the increased media coverage and discussion in the community, schools and at home about fires can raise their concern. Parents and carers can help children to be aware of the threats, but also reassure them that they are safe and secure.
Preparing children for the threat of bushfires - advice from the Australian Psychological Society to help parents and carers look after children who are anxious about the threat of bushfires.
The ways to support students after a traumatic event are:
- Listen and look – listen to the student’s story and look for changes in their behaviour. Check in regularly with any students that you are worried about.
- Protect – remind and reassure them school is a safe place to be.
- Connect – return to classroom and school routines and activities as soon as possible.
- Explore ways to link students together if they have been relocated.
- Encourage students to reach out to friends and adults for support.
- Answer questions in a simple honest way, using language that is age-appropriate.
- Highlight your student’s and communities’ strengths and resilience, be hopeful and optimistic for the future.
- Provide information about access to student counselling services and other outside school support services such as Headspace or Kids Helpline.
- Any staff concerned about a particular student should consult with the school counselling and support staff.
Support for staff
Our staff may require their own support, especially if they, their family or friends have been affected by the bushfires. It’s important for everyone in our affected communities, including our teachers, to take the time to identify those in need and discuss the types of supports that are available.
Remember that there is no right or wrong way to feel.
Remember to reach out to family and friends for support.
Support for teachers and staff after a bushfire (login required) on our department intranet has more information.
Some information on this page is adapted from NSW education department advice.
Phone: 8226 1061
Email: education.internalcomms [at] sa.gov.au