Blog: Nurturing Children Together

Talking With Children About Tornado Drills

Tornados and Tornado Drills can evoke a  range of reactions in young children, and it is very possible that your child does not know what a tornado is, which makes talking about how to practice being safe in one additionally challenging. To begin the conversation about tornado drills, you may want initially to talk to your child about the weather: how sometimes it is windy and rainy, sometimes sunny or snowy, hot or cold. Children are naturally interested in what makes it rain and what causes wind, and they understand very early the ever changing nature of the weather. 

Rather than focusing on facts about how scary and powerful tornadoes can be, it’s best to keep the description simple: “It gets windy when warm air and cold air mix around together. Sometimes this mixture of warm and cold air makes very strong winds that come close to the ground, and when this happens it's called a tornado. Tornadoes are shaped like funnels and spin, kind of like tops (perhaps demonstrate with a top or something else that spins), and they can be very strong.” You can differentiate regular wind from tornadoes by talking about how the sky looks different in a tornado, with dark clouds and a greenish sky.  It is best to avoid discussing the potential disaster that tornadoes can cause, destroying houses, uplifting cars and people and trees, etc., and it is important to say that tornadoes do not occur just because it is windy, and that they are rare. Avoid getting too technical with weather terms like up- and down-drafts, cyclones, supercells, etc. 

As with fire drills, tornado drills help us practice what to do and where to go if there is a tornado warning; it's good to have a plan in case the wind gets too strong.  At schools drills follow a typical pattern. Teachers generally will tell children about the tornado drill ahead of time, especially for the first one in a year, and will describe what will happen. On the day of the drill, there will be some kind of alert, which varies from school to school. It is typically different from the alert used for other drills, so everyone knows what to do. Each class will go into a protected, inner part of the building, sit against the walls with their teacher(s) and friends, and wait until they get the “all-clear” from someone outside.

The primary goal in talking with children about this or any other potential disaster is to be matter of fact, not give too much or unnecessary information, and convey confidence in the grownups who are taking care of them.