Natural disasters and extreme weather events such as storms, cyclones, floods or bushfires can be frightening and upsetting for babies and young children. Drought, a more gradual kind of natural disaster, can also have profound effects on the emotional wellbeing of babies and young children by putting stress on the family and disrupting familiar routines.
Because their cognitive capacities are at an early stage of development, it’s hard for babies and young children to understand what’s happening during and following a natural disaster. In fact, children around age three who are grappling with the concepts of cause and effect sometimes blame themselves for extreme weather events (“I yelled at Mummy and then a big storm came”). Young children have fewer coping resources than older children or adults, and their ability to regulate their own emotions is only just developing. They also have less power to take an active role in restoration efforts. For all these reasons, very young children are even more vulnerable to the emotional impacts of a natural disaster than older children or adults.
In the past decade, online resources have been developed to help primary and secondary school-aged children come to terms with the experience of living through a natural disaster. However, until recently, there were no such resources for children aged three and under, and their parents and caregivers.
Birdie’s tree has been developed by the Queensland Centre for Perinatal and Infant Mental Health, Children’s Health Queensland Hospital and Health Service (QCPIMH), to help support the emotional wellbeing of babies and young children and their parents and caregivers who’ve experienced a natural disaster. The website hosts five storybooks featuring Birdie and Mr Frog, which a parent, carer or emergency responder can read with a young child on a computer, laptop, iPad or mobile phone. A suite of interactive games encourages children to work through frightening memories and ‘big feelings’ resulting from the disaster. Information sheets and booklets are tailored to the needs of expectant and new parents and the parents and caregivers of babies and young children.
A curriculum for early childhood educators has been developed and can be accessed by contacting QCPIMH directly on PIMH@health.qld.gov.au or by phoning (07) 3266 3100.
Come and meet Birdie and Mr Frog at www.childrens.health.qld.gov.au/natural-disaster-recovery