As a native Kansan, severe weather and tornadoes have always been a fact of life. Anyone raised here knows that with the warm, spring temperatures come volatile weather and the potential for natural disasters. Along with tornado warnings come probable power outages, high winds, thunder and lightning – all conceivably upsetting for children. Choose to be proactive about it, and you can make tornadoes and all severe weather serious, but not scary.
Inform & Educate
- If you’re able, make a point to be outside on Mondays at noon. On clear days it is when most counties (including Sedgwick and Butler) test the outdoor warning sirens. Make a point to talk to your child about the siren as a warning noise to let us know there is a dangerous storm. As early as two years, my oldest was hyper aware of occupations, safety and alarms. The idea that there were special people whose jobs it was to let us know if there was going to be a storm was resonated, and hopefully provided some comfort, so he could get along being a carefree kid.
- It’s hard to understand exactly what a tornado is without a reference point. There also are not a lot of reference materials for young children. My favorites are Otis and the Tornado and Lily: A True Story of Courage and the Joplin Tornado. If your child is ready for more advanced scientific information about tornadoes there are plenty of technical picture books available (like this and this) or even a video like this one from TED Ed. Kiddos of any age can have fun making a soda pop bottle twister– it is a tornado alley kid rite of passage as well as a good visual.
- Knowing key Kansas weather terms can help you make sense of what’s going on, too. Click here for the difference between a Tornado Watch and a Tornado Warning!
Prepare, Prepare, Prepare
- It can be very useful to stage a drill at home. You don’t need to be elaborate about it, but set an alarm on your phone and tell your child that it’s time to pretend there is a tornado.
- Introduce them to your family’s shelter (lowest level, center of the home, away from windows).
- Try to do a few minutes with the lights off, flashlights on. This can be upsetting for kids, but less so if they’re exposed often.
- Make sure everyone’s participating- even pets- so they know that everyone will be safe.
- For a full dress rehearsal, wear shoes! If the worst were to happen you’ll need footwear to navigate debris.
- If your child is in a school or daycare program they are participating in drills outside of the home too. Know their school’s emergency plan and talk through it with you child being aware for any insecurities. Now is the time to explain that everyone needs to stay where they are during a storm for safety and assure them that their teachers will help them until mom or dad can pick them up. [God bless the teachers!]
- Don’t be left hunting for the ever-elusive flashlights, pack an emergency kit now!
In My Storm Emergency Kit
- a weather radio – don’t count on power or data service in an emergency
- flashlights (hand crank or pack extra batteries)
- snacks and bottled water
- first aid kit
- toys/games- hit up the dollar store for a few small things to stash that may make 20-90 minutes more tolerable
- diapers or, for the newly potty-trained, a little potty seat (nothing more upsetting than the “call of nature” and no facilities!)
When that tornado comes around, focus on what you can control: providing reasonable safety for your family and an environment that is serious, but not scary. Let the professional storm chasers do their job and you keep your family out of harms way.