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How Do We Start the Process of Recovery as a Family?General Public Image

Sometimes following disasters we have the gift of being surrounded by loved ones or family. Under those circumstances the work of grief recovery and recovery can occur within a group of people who love each other (the essence of family, after all). Following disasters we can help each other in families by:

  • Encouraging family members to talk in ways that fit for them about their experience of the disaster: what they saw, heard, thought, smelled, and felt. Recovery is facilitated by verbal reliving, making meaning, and putting the event in context as a way of feeling understood, rejoining the human race, and gaining perspective on the experience, in a safe setting.
  • Be supportive and non-judgmental, remembering that each person’s experience of the disaster may be different. Use with your partner and your children to test your understanding of others’ experience.
  • Discuss factual information about what caused the disaster. Now may be the time, in the safety and stillness following the event, to discuss its factual details using specific information about the disaster. Calmly and firmly explain the situation. As best as you can, tell children what you know about the disaster. Explain what will happen next.
  • Share about your experience of stress in response to the disaster, and discuss the specific ways in which your life has changed. This will help others know what is happening.
  • Although lots of communication happens informally, you might consider holding family meetings.
  • Maintain crucial standards with children, but adjust your expectations and discipline to meet the needs of your family during this difficult time. Be flexible with family roles.
  • Include children in recovery activities. Give children chores that are their responsibility. This will help them feel they are part of the recovery. Having a task will help them understand that everything will be all right.
  • Laugh. Use humor whenever possible to assist in your recovery and meaning-making.
  • Be more tolerant. Give each other space.
  • Validate each other:
    • Give hugs.
    • Tell each other how much they are appreciated.
    • Offer praise.
  • Use rituals to support and aid growth and healing. Rituals can help the family in the healing process and reaffirm family bonds. As an example, one family who lost their home in a fire filled balloons, each representing something they lost in the fire. The family gathered in a circle at the site of their home and said a few words about what each item meant and then released the balloons in the air.
  • After some time has passed, review what has happened with your family. Concentrate on how each person has changed or grown. Work on meaning-making of the disaster as you are able.
  • Set priorities and problem solve with input from family members.
  • Give and ask for support from family members, friends and the community.
  • Review emergency preparedness. Improve those areas that need some attention and family practice drills.

Additional Resources

Georgia’s Disaster & Emergency Website. If computer access is possible during a disaster, this should be the first place to go.

The Georgia Emergency Management Agency (GEMA) coordinates & maintains disaster response facilities & procedures in the state. It offers up-to-the-minute disaster information.

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) offers this website for emergency preparedness.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) offers disaster-related information for individuals here. provides this section of their website to help individual Americans prepare, plan, and stay informed. offers a very helpful & comprehensive overview of what to do to prepare for disasters and what to expect after a disaster.

The American Red Cross offers this site to help you prepare and get trained for a disaster.

The American Red Cross offers this site to help you get assistance after a disaster.

The American Psychological Association (APA) offers tips for managing traumatic stress in recovering from disasters and other traumatic events.

This Department of Veterans Affairs website details the phases of traumatic stress during and after a disaster as described by the National Center for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.