Your Member Benefits Website features include:

  • Access to online articles with helpful information
  • Ability to submit an online form asking a counselor to contact you
  • Topics covering working life, wellness, parenting, management, etc.

Your Customer Hub features include:

  • Automated headcount updates in UCMS
  • Invoicing reflective of the active populations under your account
  • Access reporting with case trends, disruptive issues, utilisation

Local Service Partners

Local Service Partners are independent EAPs with which WPO has established strategic relationships for the delivery of global EAP services in alignment with the WPO models, processes and quality standards.

  • 3 March 2022
  • 2 years

Helping Young People Cope with the Stress of Emergency or Forced Relocation

Hal Morgan

If you and your family have been forced from your home by violence or disaster, this article offers guidance on ways to help your children cope with the stress they may be feeling.

How Emergency or Forced Relocation Can Affect Children

  • Damage, injuries and deaths that result from an unexpected or uncontrollable event are difficult for most young people to understand.
  • Following a disaster or violent event, a young person’s view of the world as safe and predictable is temporarily lost. (This is true of adults as well.)
  • Young people express their feelings and reactions in various ways, especially in different age groups. Many are confused about what has happened and about their feelings. Not every child has immediate reactions; some can have delayed reactions that show up days, weeks or even months later; and some may never have a reaction. Children’s reactions are strongly affected by the emotional reactions of their parents and the adults around them.
  • Young people can easily become afraid that a similar event will happen again or that violence will reach them even after relocation, and that they or their family will be injured or killed.

How Young People Show Stress

It is normal for young people to show signs of stress after a disaster or exposure to violence or danger. Young people show signs of stress differently at different ages.

Preschool-age children may

  • Have trouble sleeping
  • Cling to adults more than usual
  • Be irritable
  • Not enjoy activities they normally enjoy
  • Complain of stomach aches or other illnesses

School-age children may

  • Have irrational fears or nightmares
  • Become extremely upset for little or no reason
  • Misbehave, engage in disruptive behaviour or have problems in school
  • Not enjoy activities they normally enjoy
  • Complain of stomach aches or headaches with no associated illness
  • Feel guilt or shame and feel responsible for what has happened
  • Feel emotionally numb

Teenagers may

  • Feel fearful or helpless and see the world as an unsafe place
  • Feel guilt or shame about what has happened
  • Be concerned about being viewed as different or abnormal by friends and classmates
  • Engage in impulsive behaviours
  • Have trouble concentrating
  • Not enjoy activities they normally enjoy
  • Feel emotionally numb

Helping Young People Understand a Disaster or Act of Violence

Disasters or acts of violence can hit young people hard. It is difficult for them to understand and accept that there are events in their lives that cannot be controlled or predicted. When facing an unknown and potentially dangerous situation, young people usually look to adults for answers and help. Talk with young people at a level in line with their age. Children handle information differently at different ages. Preschool-age children cannot handle as much information as teenagers.

Before you as an adult can help young people cope with a disaster, it is important for you to recognise your own natural feelings of helplessness, fear and anger, if these exist. Until this occurs, you will not be able to give a young person the full emotional help they need. Nothing is wrong with letting young people know that you do not have all the answers. Things that can be done immediately include the following:

  • Let young people know how you see the family situation improving – for example, your plans for their school, your work and family housing.
  • Communicate a positive ‘I’m not helpless’ attitude, stressing that ‘we can get through this together’.
  • Ask for parenting or other help if the situation gets beyond your abilities and control.

These actions will start the healing process and help young people to feel relief in knowing the family will regain control and restore their lives.

Ways to Help Young People Manage Stress

For Preschool Children

  • Reassure young children that the event that pushed you from your home was not their fault in any way.
  • Talk with children about how they are feeling, and listen without judgment.
  • Let children know they can have their own feelings, which may be different from the feelings of others.
  • Let children take their own time to figure things out.
  • Do not expect children to be brave or ask them to pretend that they do not think or feel as they do.
  • Give preschoolers small bits of information in answer to their questions. Too much information can confuse them.

For School-Age Children and Teenagers

  • Return to former routines of bedtime, eating and so forth, as soon as possible. If this is not possible, develop new routines. The structure of a routine provides security and assurance.
  • Do not expect children to be brave or tough or not to cry.
  • Do not minimise the event or the disruption of the family’s relocation.
  • Hug your children. Hugging lets your children know that someone is there for them.
  • Allow special privileges, such as leaving the light on when they sleep.
  • Spend extra time with your children at bedtime. Read stories, listen to music and talk quietly.
  • Children, just like adults, cope better when healthy. Make sure children are getting balanced meals, proper exercise and enough rest.
  • Find ways to emphasise to your children that you love them.
  • Encourage children and adolescents to feel in control by letting them choose which clothes to wear, food to eat at meals and so forth.
  • Encourage your teenager to talk one-on-one with a trusted adult or in a small group of peers about the event and the disruption of relocation. Generally, this is most successful when you begin with general events, move to more event-specific experiences and then follow with each person’s experiences of what has happened.
  • Teenagers may wish to talk about values, moral issues and the meaning of the disaster or act of violence.

When Young People May Need Additional Help

Situations may develop when young people need additional help dealing with emotional aftereffects the disaster or act of violence or with the disruption of the family’s relocation. Young people may benefit from help from a health care professional if the emotional stress does not get better in a few weeks, or when they do any of the following:

  • Display continual and aggressive emotional outbursts.
  • Show serious problems at school (e.g. fighting, skipping school, arguments with teachers or food fights).
  • Withdraw completely from family and friends.
  • Cannot cope with routine problems or daily activities.
  • Engage in vandalism or juvenile, law-breaking activities.
  • Express suicidal ideas.

Reaching out for help is not a sign of weakness. People have limits, and sometimes need help when stretched beyond their limits. Seeking help from others can offer solutions that may not be known to you.

Adapted from: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR)

Morgan, H. (2022, 24 February). Helping young people cope with the stress of emergency or forced relocation (Z. Meeker & B. Schuette, Eds.). London: Workplace Options.

Adapted from: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). (Revised 2022 [Ed.]). Relocation stress: Helping families deal with the stress of relocation after a disaster (B. Schuette, Ed.) [Global Edit]. Retrieved 18 February 2022 from

Related Posts

Wellbeing at Work Resources

Explore, educate and engage with our library of reports and insights on wellbeing industry trends.