Leadership Reflections After a Tornado
Helping Kids Respond to the Oklahoma Tragedy
I was on the phone soon after I heard the news of the Oklahoma tornado that swept through Moore and the surrounding areas of Oklahoma City on Monday. I texted and called friends to make sure they were alright and to see what I could do to help. I wasn’t alone. Thousands have converged on the area to help local residents sift through the aftermath of the tornado and begin rebuilding.
If you’re a parent, teacher, coach or youth worker—you’ve likely had a conversation already with your kids about this devastating tornado. Many are now processing it with students and responding to the need. This is the spirit of so many Americans.
But just like after 9-11 or other disasters, many adults aren’t sure how to have a conversation about it with young people. So, they avoid it altogether. I believe we must understand how to not only talk about events like this, but to transform them into “teachable moments.” I think there’s a way adults can help students debrief what happened in a practical yet heartfelt manner; in a way that includes both wisdom and empathy and that turns an “evil” into a “good.” Here are some thoughts:
1. Use this disaster to build empathy.
Expose kids to the aftermath. Enable them to step into the shoes of the victims when it’s appropriate. Remember, so much of their world is virtual or video. This is a real event, with real consequences. Fortunately, most people survived it, but dozens did not. Talk, reflect and pray for the people who were affected.
2. Use this disaster to establish expectations.
This tornado is one more reminder that bad things can happen to good people. In a world where children often are sheltered from hardship or adversity, allow this calamity to sink in and serve as a reality check. Talk about life’s difficulties. Remind them that tough times don’t last but tough people do.
3. Use this disaster to cultivate problem-solving skills.
If your students are old enough, talk about the first-responders and celebrate how quickly they acted in response to the devastation. Then, pose the question: if you were in charge of cleaning up or rebuilding—what steps would you take. Kids who learn to solve problems and serve people become valuable adults.
4. Use this disaster to develop a heart for service.
Don’t just talk, and don’t just pray—do something more. Get involved with your young people, collecting canned food, raising money or even traveling to the area if possible and serving alongside others to help rebuild the area. There is nothing like making sacrifices for others in need that matures a student quickly.
Tell me your thoughts? What else have you or someone you know done in response to the tornado that was redemptive?