Advice to assist parents, teachers and students following recent fires
This information provides advice and assistance for parents, teachers and students following recent bushfire related events impacting local communities.
Large scale distressing events impact our school communities in many ways. The bushfires that are impacting a number of our communities have been unsettling and stressful for many people.
Distress may be related to:
- having been directly at risk/exposed to fires (loss of homes, pets, personal belongings)
- being concerned about family or friends
- feelings and memories related to previous experience
- other grief and loss.
Information for parents
The recent fires across a large part of NSW have affected our students and schools in different ways. It is important to recognise that almost all distress or behavioural change following 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 much 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 even months later.
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 and/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.
How you can support your child
- Monitor how much your child is being exposed to television/social media stories regarding 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.
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 assistance. 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:
Information for schools and teachers
The ways to support students after a traumatic event are:
- Listen/Look – listen to the student’s story and look for changes in their behaviour and 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/school routines and activities as soon as possible.
- Explore ways to links students together if they have been relocated.
- Encourage students to reach out to friends for support as well as adults.
- 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/Kids Helpline.
- Any staff concerned about a particular student should consult with the school counselling and support staff.
Useful scripts for teachers
We understand the recent fires have been very difficult and everyone has had different experiences and reactions. One of the best things we can do to help us recover is to return to our school routines as quickly as possible. In the classroom we will get back to our usual lessons. If you have concerns or are feeling upset please come and see me.
Support for staff
School staff may also require additional support, especially if they have family or friends who have been affected by the bushfires. It is important to take the time to identify those affected 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.
After an event like a bushfire, it’s common for us to find everyday situations challenging. Issues that you would normally manage easily can suddenly feel a struggle. Don’t ignore the need to care for yourself or to ask for more support. Anticipate that the next few weeks will be a difficult time, be patient with changes in your emotional state and have a contingency plan for managing any other difficult situations.
Support options for staff
- Employee Assistance Program (EAP) (staff only) – contact 1800 060 650
- external support services, including
- local GP
- Beyond Blue – contact 1300 22 4636
- Lifeline – contact 13 11 14
- or other local community services.