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Keeping Your Child Emotionally Safe During the Storm

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Terry Date, Swampscott Patch
Terry Date, Swampscott Patch

We all know that children thrive when they feel safe and feel a sense of control in their lives. When the great forces of nature manifest in a Frankenstorm, the time before, during or after can be downright scary for a child. As a parent, of course your responsibility is to do everything you can to keep your child physically safe, but see if you can find a moment to help keep your child emotionally safe as well. Here are a few quick, practical tools to do so:

1. Conscious Breathing - Breathing is the only internal system that we have direct control over (unlike blood pressure, heart rate, digestion etc.) Knowing how to regulate our breathing can be an incredible source of power to face panic, lower stress and anxiety and improve coping skills. If we are not consciously harnessing our breath under stress or fear, our breath tends to be fast and shallow which restricts blood flow to the brain increasing panic and decreasing our ability to respond efficiently and appropriately. Teaching your child the tools to harness their breath will be lessons they can use for a lifetime.

I have been teaching Ninja Breathing to children and teens for twenty years and it's by far one of the most powerful and empowering tools that I teach. It's simply a slow, deep inhale through the nose and a slow, deep exhale through the mouth. This kind of deep belly breathing stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system which controls the body's relaxation response, helping to calm and de-stress the mind and body.

The best way to introduce Ninja Breathing to your children is to do it with them and let them see you use it when you are feeling stressed. Surprisingly, even my 15-month-old daughter has started doing Ninja Breathing. She picked up on it after seeing my wife and I practicing it around the house. Of course, we think it's very cute now, but we also know how powerful it will be if Ninja Breathing becomes her natural default response to stress.

It's possible that there may be times during the storm that the slow pace of Ninja Breathing may seem out of reach. During times of intensity, ask your child to speed up the Ninja Breathing. The breaths are still in through the nose and out through the mouth but they are much faster. It can help to try and match the speed of the breaths with the degree of excitation in the nervous system (think of breathing techniques used during childbirth!) This will discharge the stress and help your child feel more in control of themselves.

2. A-B Formula - The A-B Formula is a tool I designed to help children face life's challenges. It's simple and easy for children to remember: "A" = Accept and "B" = Baby Step. Facing a stressful situation can be emotionally overwhelming and children can easily overload on fear. The A-B Formula can give them a sense of control.

The first step is to Accept the situation. Before the storm, help your child accept the basic facts -- a very big storm is headed your way and you are doing your best to prepare for it. During the storm, you might need to help your child accept that the storm is outside and it's big and scary but it won't last forever. After the storm, your child might need help to accept whatever ramifications there are for your family. Ninja Breathing can be a great tool for the acceptance part of the formula.

The second step is to find a Baby Step that will help your child feel they have a sense of control in the situation. Before the storm, give your child an age-appropriate task to help participate in the preparations. By letting them feel they are making a contribution, they will have a greater sense of control of the situation. During the storm, one Baby Step you can give your child is to simply do Ninja Breathing. Again, having something tangible to do will let your child feel they are helping themselves while also helping the rest of the family stay calm. After the storm, find a Baby Step that your child can handle so that they feel part of the repair and recovery. Taking one step at a time can help your child not be completely overwhelmed by their emotions as they face Frankenstorm or any other storm that might come their way.

My thoughts and prayers are with everyone in the path of Hurricane Sandy.