Teaching Kids About Real Life Emergencies
by Cynthia M. Johnson, MA
TV shows that dramatize emergency situations and celebrate real life heroes are no accident. Viewers like them because they show people who perform acts of courage in high stakes situations.
Many of the heroes on these shows are children. It may leave you wondering how your child would act during emergency. And whether he or she has the tools needed to act calmly and with confidence.
Most school children learn about emergency services and how to call for help. Local fire stations often visit classes to teach about fire safety. There are also free classroom resources that schools can use. But, as with most things, children learn best when their lessons are reinforced at home. There are many steps parents can take to teach their children what to do during an emergency.
Make the Right Call
It's usually easy for kids to tell when a real emergency is happening. Accidents can happen at any time and most of the time an adult is around to help. But it's important for kids to know how to call for help when no one else can.
Help can mean finding the nearest adult or using a phone to call for emergency services. Let your child know an adult will pick up and walk them through what they need to do. Teach them to stay calm and take note of where they are. It is vital to share these details when someone is hurt.
Children should also be taught that emergency numbers are for emergencies only. Any fake calls may delay help for those who really need it. Let them know they won't get in trouble for calling when they aren't sure if they need help. In these cases, it is better to call than not to call. If they call an emergency service by mistake, they should stay on the line to let the dispatcher know that the call was a mistake.
"Just the Facts": What to Say to a Dispatcher
Emergency dispatchers will ask a child to give their name, address, the name of the nearest cross street, and their phone number. The number your child calls from may not always show up on the dispatcher's screen. Emergency calls from mobile phones may not always show the location either. Write your mobile phone number in a notebook and put it in your car's glove box. Teach your child to give that number out during an emergency.
Next, your child will be asked about the person who needs help. The child should never guess at an answer and should ask the dispatcher to explain any questions that may be confusing. Your child should never touch, move, or cover the person unless needed to remove them from danger.
Young children will be told not to hang up the phone until they are told. They must stay calm and should not shout into the phone. They should also know the phone number of a trusted adult who can be called when help is on the scene.
If a third person is present, your child may be asked to dial for emergency help and to wait away from the accident site where they can wave down emergency personnel when they arrive. Children must be taught not to go out into the street where they may be in the path of emergency vehicles.
Emergencies happen. Be sure that your child has the skills to handle them.
American Red Cross Health and Safety Services
Safe Kids Worldwide
Canadian Red Cross
Emergency preparedness for children. Government of Canada website. Available at: https://www.getprepared.gc.ca/cnt/plns/mrgncychldrn-eng.aspx. Accessed November 8, 2021.
Teaching your child how to use 911. Kids Health—Nemours Foundation website. Available at: https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/911.html. Accessed November 8, 2021.
Last reviewed November 2021 by EBSCO Medical Review Board
Last Updated: 11/8/2021
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