Waking up to news about the devastation in Moore, Oklahoma and surrounding areas is hard to comprehend but even more difficult for our children who may hear talk on the radio, chatter among parents as they pick up and drop off from school, catch a glimpse of a picture on the news, or in the morning newspaper. No parent can predict how current events will affect their kids but it’s my hope that this may help you teach your child about last night’s tornadoes and how to help in an age appropriate way that will educate without instilling fear.
Before diving into the content below, be sure to take a look at each link without your child present to determine what is most age appropriate for your child and their concerns. Then sit down as a family to look at the links. Be available to answer any questions that arise. If your child asks a question that you don’t know the answer to, do a Google search when they are not with you. There is no shortage of devastating pictures available online and depending on the age of your child, you may want to filter out some of the images rather than having them come up right in front of them.
As you talk to them, Grace Duffy, parent and blogger at Formerly Gracie, urges fellow parents to keep their conversations “simple and direct.” While the news is indeed heart wrenching and emotional, keeping our feelings in check helps our kids feel confident and safe.
Here are some common questions that may come up in your home.
What is a tornado? Define a tornado in an age appropriate way. For young kids, the simplest explanation is that it’s a column of air that extends from the clouds to the ground, is shaped like a funnel, and comes with high winds that whirl around. Sometimes a concrete example aids understanding. If you have a kitchen funnel, take that out and rotate it to provide a physical representation. For additional information, Weather WizKids has a great page about tornadoes including what they are, how they form, how they look, what makes them stop, and where they’re most likely to occur.
Where is Oklahoma? Start with a geography lesson to familiarize your children with United States geography. Talk about where the state is in relation to where you live. A helpful U.S. map to show where Oklahoma is in relation to your state can be found on MapsoftheWorld.com.
Can a tornado happen near us? This answer depends on where you live but kids should know that the central part of the United States is the most likely place for tornadoes to occur thanks to converging weather patterns that make it ripe for tornado formation. According to National Earth Science Teachers Association’s Windows to the Universe site, 75% of tornadoes happen in the United States. The Great Plains is home to what weather watchers call “Tornado Alley” that is made up of Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota, North Dakota, Iowa, Missouri, Arkansas, and Louisiana. While tornadoes are common in these states, it does not mean that they can’t occur in other states. We live in the Washington, D.C. area where it isn’t unheard of to have an occasional twister but kids should know that while it’s possible, it’s not that likely if they don’t reside in Tornado Alley. For kids wanting to know about tornadoes worldwide, visit Windows to the Universe for a world map showing frequency of tornadoes around the globe.
How do we know when a tornado is coming? Kids should know what weather signs to look for such as a dark, greenish sky, large hail, a freight train-type roar, and large, dark, low-lying clouds. While there may be warning, Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Ready.gov page on tornadoes says they can also strike quickly with no warning. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Storm Prediction Center provides a real time look at the weather in the country, including any severe weather watches, that may be of interest to older children.
How do we stay safe? Whether or not you live in Tornado Alley, it’s always a good idea to make sure everyone in your family knows your emergency plan. Have emergency essentials handy and make sure that important information is on one place so it’s easily accessible. I like Ready.gov’s Family Emergency Plan available as a free, printable PDF. The Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Ready.gov page on tornadoes has information about how to prepare before a tornado, what to do if your area is under a tornado warning, and what to do after. The site also contains information about building a safe room.
How can we help? With so much devastation, a lot of work needs to be done to help those affected. Type A Parent Conference Founder, Kelby Carr, put compiled resources at How to Help the Oklahoma Tornado Victims and fellow blogger, Kelly Kinkaid, shared these easy ways to help via her Facebook page:
- Donate at Redcross.org or text REDCROSS to 90999
- The Salvation Army USA has mobilized a number of emergency relief services in Oklahoma, including Moore, to dispense food, hydration and emotional support to first responders and survivors. Donate online or text STORM to 80888 to contribute $10 to the Salvation Army’s relief efforts or make a donation via phone at 1-800-SAL-ARMY.
- Disaster Relief of Oklahoma: Donate here:http://www.okdisasterhelp.com/
- For pets of loved ones donate to the Central Oklahoma Humane Society : http://www.okhumane.org/
- Donate to the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma : http://
www.regionalfoodbank.org/ or text FOOD to 32333
If you know of other ways that families can offer assistance, please feel free to leave a link in the comments section of this post or Kelby’s to share with others.
Tornado image courtesy of Wakpaper.com