When my children returned to school after Hurricane Sandy, it was so interesting to hear how different children reacted to the storm. The parents that I spoke with had suffered property damage and power outages, but for the most part didn't know anyone who died in the hurricane or its aftermath.
During the storm, some children went on with their normal routines even though they had no power. They played and ate and never really focused on more than their immediate surroundings. Other children were annoyed by the inconveniences and the break from electronics. Some helped their parents clean up property damage and others went to stay with family and friends. There were also many that experienced some level of anxiety, ranging from mild to severe, about the storm, the damage, and the suffering.
Although my older daughter's anxiety was not extreme, I noticed there were moments when she was really scared and worried. I have always associated my daughter's anxiety with a feeling of groundlessness when she doesn't know what will happen next and the fear of uncertainty is overwhelming. She worries that things won't work out the way she wants or that something she perceives as negative won't get better. However, during this storm, which caused so much destruction, it became clear to me that part of her anxiety stemmed from the fear that if something bad happens she and the people around her will not be okay. And the more I thought about it, I realized that her fear of "not being okay" was a large part of her that would never be at peace. She spent so much time worrying that bad things she read or heard about could possibly happen to her or someone she loved. She thought, "How can I be okay if these things actually do happen?"
Our discussions about Hurricane Sandy were important to her, but the events themselves showed her that although life may be uncomfortable or even harsh at times, it will continue and possibilities still exist. This might not seem like such a revelation to you, but for some people and in particular for children, the understanding that bad things may happen in the future, but they can still be okay, is a game changer. When children start to believe they can be okay regardless of what happens, their minds and emotions settle into a different, better place. Now my daughter has the knowledge from this experience that equips her to avoid paralyzing anxiety when she reads or hears about global warming, terrorism and human suffering. This fear that "the end is near" won't hang over her head the same way. In difficult situations, her focus also can go more towards solving the problem than feeling that the problem will overtake her life.
What has also been helpful with her anxiety is getting out there with her and helping those that have suffered great losses in Hurricane Sandy. This shows her that people can come together and work to repair the lives of the most unfortunate. We were able to drop off fresh vegetables left over from members of our CSA (Community Supported Agriculture), to a charity that cooks fresh meals for the sick and people having hard times. Along with her community at school, she made sandwiches and cards for the people suffering in Staten Island. She helped collect blankets for a community in Chelsea that wouldn't get heat back for another ten days. She worked to collect school supplies for an elementary school in one of hardest hit areas of Midland Beach. Every time we participate in or see people helping one another, I watch my daughter fill with more hope and less fear.
Although the activities that my daughter has participated in may seem like small acts towards a very significant problem, it has been a mammoth experience for her and so many other children. When communities come together to help each other, we are building a foundation for our children to live in a closer knit and more giving society. As parents, it is such a crucial time to let our children see how their thoughts and actions matter in the world and how they can make it a better place. Even if you are far away from where the storm hit, there are still many great organizations that you and your children can locate to donate supplies and provide well wishes and support. Hurricane Sandy is also a great opportunity to speak with our children about their ability to still be okay and persevere through whatever they face. They don't need to manage and worry about every "bad thing" that can happen, but instead be aware of their internal strength and seek solutions when problems arise. This way their minds can relax in their "okayness" and enter each moment with a clear mind and open heart.
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