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Sonoma Family Life Magazine

How to Help Kids Make It Through a Crisis

By Anish Shah

Between the pandemic and wildfires, this year has been extremely difficult for local families. Children are especially vulnerable to experiencing stress and anxiety during these trying times. They may demonstrate behavior more typical of younger children, have nightmares, and lag behind in schoolwork. Some may become more irritable in dealing with adults and their friends, while others may experience loneliness and become withdrawn. No matter what symptoms your children are manifesting, here are ways to help them cope.

Give them time and attention. Let children know that you are there for them. This is especially important during the first few months following a disaster like a wildfire. Some children may regress into earlier behaviors, such as bed-wetting or wanting a bottle, while older children may not want to be alone. Children younger than eight may also blame themselves for the event. It essential to tell them it is not their fault and assuage any feelings of guilt they may harbor.

Be affectionate and allow for emotional expression. Affection can be exceptionally comforting to children experiencing trauma. And giving them space to express their feelings is essential. Younger children can often best express their feelings through non-verbal activities, such as drawing or painting. These activities are not only excellent ways to relieve stress but also allow them to engage in social activities with other children and adults. For older children, just talking about how they feel about the wildfires may decrease anxiety and confusion. Assure your children that you are always available to help them manage their emotional problems.

Restore a sense of order. Maintain regular schedules for meals, play, and bedtime.
Reduce news viewing. For both children and adults alike, excess information about the wildfires can trigger traumatizing memories and, therefore, should be kept to a minimum.

Expect separation anxiety. Damage to home and community can threaten children’s sense of safety and normalcy, and, in younger children especially, may trigger separation anxiety. Expect behaviors such as excessive clinging, crying, screaming, and fear of the dark. Helping children communicate their fears and telling them you will always be there for them will help them cope.

Resume classroom routines. Reading, working on projects, and participation in social, school, and community-rebuilding activities can help reduce children’s stress.
Attend to sleep issues. Some children may have difficulty falling asleep after going through a disaster. Stuffed animals, soft blankets, and flashlights by their beds can help. Also try spending more time with them before they go to sleep and perhaps reading to them before bed.

Empower them. Combat children’s feelings of helplessness by writing thank-you letters to first responders and other people who have helped. Such an activity can help restore a sense of hope and control over the situation. 

Dr. Anish Shah, M.D., founded Siyan Clinical Research in 2016 in Santa Rosa. He specializes in a wide range of mood disorders, including depression, ADHD, PTSD, substance abuse, and schizophrenia. In 2019, he launched Project Hope (, aimed at reducing opioid dependence in Northern California, including Marin, Sonoma, Lake, and Mendocino Counties.

For more information or to request help, contact the clinic at 206-7268 (ext. 1). Find more details about Siyan Clinical Corporation at