In May 2000 my daughter was 5 years old and often described the whirling cyclones known to swoop down the Oklahoma plains as “tormatos.”
She would ask: “Mommy, are we gonna get hit by a tormato?”
It’s 2008 and she’s 13. Lots of things have changed, but her concern about tornadoes isn’t one of them.
She is one of many youths who may find themselves alone at home when the storm sirens go off. Children whose parents work outside the home often deal with this situation during tornado season. Wednesday’s storm was a classic example of this situation.
My daughter knows what to do during a storm, but it’s still frightening for her. Wednesday, I was actually caught out in the storm away from the office and made it home just as a tornado (classified as a “gale, “ it damaged property) briefly touched down not too far from my house.
The situation reminded me of a column I wrote in 2000 which featured some storm safety tips by Lisa Hamlin, a 4-H Youth at Risk educator and family and consumer sciences specialist with the Oklahoma County Cooperative Extension Center, a part of the Division of Agriculture and Natural Sciences at Oklahoma State University.
In 2003 she updated those tips to specifically address youths home alone during storms.
Well, things are somewhat different for Hamblin since we last talked years ago. She told me she now has a 6-year-old daughter named Caroline.
She’s still an advocate for young people, maybe even more so.
Tornados are scary to think about but parents must talk about them with their children, especially youths who are home alone after school and during the summer break, she said.
Tornadoes and severe storms always will be part of life in Oklahoma. Parents who prepare children for what to expect and how to stay safe will have children who exhibit fewer symptoms of anxiety, fear and stress, Hamblin said.
Here are some of Hamblin’s storm safety tips for parents:
1. Make sure your child knows the difference between a tornado watch and a tornado warning? Can they find their county on a state map? Children who are watching TV weather reports won’t understand them without this information.
2. Parents must be honest and not give false reassurances. Explain that tornadoes are unpredictable, but having and practicing a family emergency plan will help them stay safe.3. Older children can help put together an emergency kit that includes flashlights, extra batteries, a battery-powered radio, a first-aid kit and other necessities.
4. Discuss with your children what they should do if a tornado is heading toward your community. Is there a community shelter or close neighbors or relations? Is there a designated place in your home?
5. Children will be worried about their pets during a storm. Add a leash to the emergency kit or have a pet carrier nearby.
6. Parents of teenagers need to prepare them for what to do if they are caught by a storm in a car, at a mall or in other places teens tend to congregate. Adolescents may downplay their concerns, but it is still important to talk about their safety.
7. Parents of young children who attend a child-care center or an after-care program when school has ended need to be aware of their emergency procedures.
QUESTION: How do you help your children cope with Oklahoma’s severe weather?