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Life Lesson from Sandy – 6 Ways to Build Resilience and Empathy

November 5, 2012

Nearly a week after Sandy came knocking – then crashing – on the doors of millions, it’s still on the minds of many.  For those of us who have lived through natural disasters, we have the perspective that while overwhelming, the vast majority of us survive and learn life lessons.  For those directly impacted by the storm’s damage, our collective hope is that you are supported and buoyed by the resources that appear to headed your way. It will be a long-haul.

For those not immediately impacted, there are often subtle ways our children are affected. It’s a time to teach our children some important life lessons that do not transpire in classrooms or from off pages of books.  Challenge and devastation can be overcome by intangibles such as courage, resiliency and empathy. And this is our time to model and nurture these essential life skills for our children.

Talking honestly with children about Sandy (and other difficult events) can help nurture these traits, as well as breed a sense of safety and openness to our relationships. Whether your child is raising their concerns and worries about the damage of the storm – or the prospect of another – it’s probably  be on their minds in some form.  And if doesn’t appear to be, you can initiate a conversation which allows your child to begin to see  how s/he may help others in a time of tremendous need.

Six tips for engaging with children in ways that allow them to develop resiliency and empathy around these types of events:

  1. Find out fears and fantasiesWhat do they know? What are they worried about? inaccurate information is easy to come by with large-scale media events, especially in the minds of children.  Often imagination and the what ifs are bigger than reality or simply projections what they have seen/heard onto their own situation. Correct misinformation. Validate their fears. Let them know it’s natural to feel worried and that it’s okay. Then move onto #2.
  2. Reassure – Reassure (repeatedly, if necessary) them they are safe and that hurricanes like Sandy are rare. If there’s actual risk, don’t deny that.  But if you’re safe from harm’s way, calmly reassure them that the storm has passed and that it’s unlikely something like this will be approaching soon.  If you weathered things well thanks to good planning and a bit of luck, then let them know you did the right thing!
  3. Express your gratitude – For your own safety right now, for a roof, food, family, whatever it might be. If you are a family who prays, you’re probably already keeping these folks in your prayers. If you don’t pray, this might be a time to send kind thoughts of gratitude off to the universe thanking those how have helped or asking the powers that be to bring hope, support, love and aid to those in need.
  4. Cultivate empathy – What age appropriate ways can you show those affected that you care about them? A letter to first responders? Collecting non-perishables form your own home or the store that you can deliver to a local group who is making the trip? For children old enough (middle elementary), let them accompany you to the store or contribute a small amount of their own money to the donation. Or perhaps you go help those loading trucks for delivery. Take action in the recovery efforts.
  5.  Limit the inputs – It’s always helpful to let go what doesn’t serve you.  It doesn’t serve any of us –big or small – to have a stead media diet photos and news stories centered on tragedy.  I’m all for awareness and understanding, but in moderation and in age-appropriate ways.  Younger children lack the cognitive ability to discern fantasy from reality when they see these images. Even middle elementary children often get so caught up in the images that it’s hard to realize that it’s not in their back yard.  Pictures of the same event, not repeated similar events wreaking havoc over and over again.  If you must watch the news yourself, try to do so without children present. If your kids are old enough to access these images on their own or with you, be sure to discuss what you see and how it makes you feel. This opens the door to deciding how, as a family, you might offer support to those in need.
  6. Get back into your routine – Capitalize on the time spent together as the storm approached or a deeper level of communication from engaging children in expressing their thoughts.

Sandy provided us with  a bit of a pop quiz from the universe to remind us of what’s important.  Now that the storm has passed, why not use this time afterward to help children see for themselves what’s most important in life. Let these lessons help ground us, find ways we can serve those who so desperately need help now and prepare us for other challenges we might face in the future.

Want to help?

As of Monday morning, nearly $22,000 has been donated to help schools impacted by Hurricane Sandy.

This Brooklyn-based group’s mission is to overcome systemic inequities by empowering local youth.  Add “cacao prieto” to the special instructions section and your donation will be matched by a generous donor.

Resources to responding to and coping with hurricane.

Red Cross –

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