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How to Prepare your Children for Calling 911

Every member of the family or household needs to know how to react in an emergency situation. Even the smallest residents can offer help if they’re given the proper tools and training.

Start with conversations (even children as young as two or three can benefit) on what specifically you can do when there’s a problem. Pictures of firefighters, police officers, paramedics, and other emergency personnel will paint a clearer picture of who you’re talking about and what reasons they might be called to the house. Role playing can be a valuable tool, particularly in helping a child understand when 911 should be called (an unconscious family member yes, a skinned knee - no).

The bottom line, however, is to teach the child that if in doubt and without an adult around, 911 is still the best answer when they are truly concerned or frightened. Though one must instruct children that calling 911 as a prank is a crime, it can’t be taken away from them as a resource. Reassure them they won’t get in trouble if they feel it’s an emergency, even if it turns out not to be.

Once they have an idea when to call, it’s time to talk about how to call. While many 911 calls can now be traced via computer, it’s still important for the child to be able to confirm the location and articulate the situation as best they can. You should also refer to 911 as nine-one-one and not nine-eleven. This will help the children find the numbers on the phone when they are panicked. Post the number on each phone with clear black numbers on a white sticker.

Children should know where they live including the street number, street name, and floor or apartment number if they live in a building or multifamily home. The 911 operator will ask what type of emergency it is, who needs help, and the condition of the person in trouble (or location of the fire, accident, etc.); help the child find words they can use to describe various emergencies.

You can even draw pictures with your child and write words they understand to leave near each phone in the house. This way if they’re struggling, they have a reference to look at and explain. Let them know it’s absolutely understandable for them to be frightened during an emergency; the 911 operator will understand and they should remain on the line with that person until told to put the phone down.

To further aid your child in an emergency, have a phone list near each phone in the house; this should include doctors’ numbers, contact information for all adults when they are outside of the house (pager, cell phone, work number), neighbors and family members names and numbers, and general numbers such as Poison Control. The list should also specify any medical conditions of members of the household, their doctor(s), medication and other relevant information. This will speed up the emergency personnel being able to contact other household members without further questioning the child or searching the home.

Older children can benefit from knowing where the family first aid kits are located and basic first aid. Check local YMCAs and school programs designed for kids in mind. But remember, you are your child’s best teacher and this is one of the best lessons you can teach.

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