Dealing with Severe Weather: A Guide to Talking to your Child about Emergency Weather Circumstances

By: Kate Agliata:

In the wake following the string of tornadoes that fell upon the South on April 27th, 2011, much of Alabama is still in the midst of coping with the magnitude of devastation caused by the onset of such severe weather. Most everyone has difficulty coming to terms with these kinds of tragic events, but children especially are often left confused and troubled by circumstances such as these. Responding accordingly to your child’s questions is vital in many different ways. Discussing severe weather and it’s impact, as well as establishing a family emergency plan is important now more then ever. It also doesn’t have to be as daunting of a task as you might think. Use the following suggestions as a guide while you and your family discuss and prepare yourselves for potentially severe weather.

Seize the Opportunity

If your children come to you with questions or concerns about severe weather and it’s impact, embrace their curiosity. First it’s important to explain to them that the intensity of the weather surrounding the April 2011 tornadoes is extremely rare. This should help to ease their fears and also help them to understand the infrequency involving the recurrence of similar circumstances. For age-appropriate children however, it is also wise to reinforce an understanding of the power of severe weather. Tornadoes especially are often very dangerous and are capable of forming even in the most non-traditional of environments. “It is best to be completely honest in your answer, but not too graphic,” says Emily Rich, a Shelby County School Counselor. She explains that as parents, we want to protect our children in whatever ways possible, yet in the face of extreme weather, we simply can’t always guarantee that they will not be negatively affected. “The best way to answer is to say that there may be another storm, but there are safety plans in place at their school and at home to keep them as safe as possible.”

Help your Child Understand the Science Behind Weather

Even little ones often surprise us with a question of “why,” especially on the heels of such recent severe weather events. Chances are, your children have heard you or other family members, teachers, friends or even people on the news, discussing the severity of the tornadoes. By turning to resources such as  The Weather Channel Kids interactive Web site, you and your child can have instant access to the answers of their many questions regarding the science behind weather. The site also includes a Weather Ready guide, that offers informative facts about many different types of severe weather, such as thunderstorms and tornadoes . You and your child can learn about recommended plans of action to take during different types of severe weather.  For tornado preparedness specifically, this great resource even provides detailed emergency plans based on your specific type of home.

Create a Family Emergency Plan Before Severe Weather Strikes

Creating a family emergency plan is not only a good idea, but can often literally save lives during crucial circumstances involving severe weather. Write out a simple plan of action and designate a safe place in your home to go to during a tornado. If you have pets, it’s also a good idea to make sure they are on a leash and with you at all times. Staying in tune with your local weather also helps. Make it a point to involve your child in discussions about different kinds of weather associated with living in the South. Doing so will give you and your family an informative edge, and will also help you to be better prepared in the event of quick forming storms. Putting together a family disaster kit that contains bottled water, pantry food items, and medical supplies is also a good idea. For further ideas, visit the online resource section of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA.) Once you and your family have created your family emergency plan, make sure that everyone knows the drills that are associated with specific weather circumstances, and be sure to take them seriously.

Emphasize the Importance of Community Service

Talk with your kids about the importance of community involvement, especially during devastating situations like these. This is an ideal time to discuss the relevance of community outreach through whatever method you’re capable. Ideas include on-site volunteering, donating necessary supplies to various drop-off locations, or if you are able, offering financial assistance to charities working with those who have been impacted. By bringing awareness to the importance of this kind of community service, you are teaching your child about the awesome benefits resulting from a giving spirit. “I feel that the children seeing the outpouring of help has been a great learning and character building experience,” says Rich.

In addition, emphasizing community service is a great way to help your child remember these tragic events as more than just an awful situation filled with scary images of destruction and grief. Instead they can recall it as a time when their efforts, and those of their community, were able to help the people most in need as they began the process of rebuilding their lives.

Kate, a freelance writer and mother of two, most often finds creative inspiration in writing, but occasionally at the bottom of an empty wine glass. She has hijacked her family’s former lifestyle and is in the midst of creating a simpler and greener approach to life. To follow her family’s challenges and successes in this endeavor, visit her blog, at Kate’s Musings. She and her family have lived in Birmingham since 2009.

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