Supporting children and young people with distressing events

We understand our school communities may be affected by events in Victoria and overseas, such as natural disasters and other world events. These events can be particularly distressing for staff, students, families and carers who are directly impacted or have family that are impacted. 

Some members of our communities may be upset by the images they see, and others may need reassurance and to be supported to feel safe.

Resources to support young people

The department has developed a range of resources for schools, teachers, students, families and carers to support student mental health and wellbeing.

The department's Mental Health Toolkit includes Mental health support at times of an emergency or natural disaster and advice for teachers on supporting student mental health and wellbeing during uncertain times.

A Quick Guide to Student Mental Health and Wellbeing (pdf - 551.36kb) resources is also available.

Some students may be at increased risk of bullying and cyberbullying. Bully Stoppers includes advice for schools, students and parents.

Schools supporting students and families from refugee backgrounds may find the following resources helpful (and for more information and assistance, visit School's in for Refugees - Foundation House):

Tips for supporting children and young people

Common reactions

It's common to think about the safety and predictability of the world when major world events occur.

Reactions are influenced by many factors:

  • Knowing someone impacted.
  • Identifying with the victims and survivors.
  • Seeing and hearing terrifying images and discussions.

The developmental age of the person influences what they understand and how they respond. Some may be unaware, others will be following all the discussions and media coverage, looking for understanding.

What to say and how to care

Here are some ways you can make children and young people feel safe:

  • Give reassurance that the incident is over.
  • Keep to routines, as they are reassuring.
  • Have time to listen and talk. Listen to concerns and worries and discuss strategies for feeling safe, dealing with worry and being able to take action. This helps in repairing safety and calm.
  • Give a calm response to their concerns.
  • Keep your explanations appropriate for their age and development. Start at their starting point: ask what the child/young person understands about what has happened and what their key worry is. Each child will have a different understanding and will find different parts of what has happened frightening or worrying. Very young children need simple, factual information balanced with assurances of safety. Older children will be appraising their own, and loved ones, safety. They may need help with separating reality from fantasy and dispelling rumours.
  • Reduce exposure to media coverage and conversations that are distressing and not age-appropriate.
  • Monitor their emotional state. Changes in behaviour, appetite and sleep can be an indicator of anxiety or worry. Young children often express worry through bodily aches and pains.

External mental health support

Support is also available through external services including:

  • eheadspace: 1800 650 890
  • Kids Helpline: 1800 551 800
  • Lifeline: 13 11 14
  • Beyond Blue: 1300 224 636