It is important for you, as parents and grandparents, to teach your children and grandchildren how to act calmly and responsibly in emergency situations. That includes teaching them how to call 911 if an emergency should arise. This is especially true if you are unavailable or incapacitated in such a way that you cannot solicit help yourself. Children need to be instructed in the ability to reach out for assistance whenever and wherever they may need it.
You should start by explaining to your young children the purpose of 9ll. Explain to your children that, by dialing 911, they will be able summon help from police, firefighters and paramedics if they are ever in trouble.
Ensure your children that, by dialing just those three numbers, help will be on the way and that they should remain as calm as possible. Explain to your children who they should expect to show up when they call 9ll and that they have permission to let the emergency workers in the house. This is particularly important if you have been teaching your children to understand the concept of strangers and whom they should and should not trust. I refer you to the strategies presented in my book, What Would You Do? A Kid’s Guide to Staying Safe in a World of Strangers, to help children better understand stranger safety.
Help your children to understand what constitutes an emergency and that 911 should only be used for actual emergencies and not for pranks or non-emergency situations. Teach them to distinguish between a real emergency and something that is merely an unpleasant situation. They should understand that such things as lost pets, missing toys, or a spat between siblings are not emergencies and do not warrant a 911 call. By helping your children better understand what types of situations warrant emergency responders and which ones need to be handled by you or another adult can help to prevent unnecessary 911 calls.
Teach your children the necessary critical information that they would need to provide in the event they would have to dial 911. Your children should know their complete names, their address and telephone number, as well as your name. Children knowing such critical information will make the 911 dispatcher’s task much easier. In the event that your child would be too shaken up to provide the dispatcher the necessary critical information, emergency dispatchers can trace a call to determine your child’s location.
Talk with your children about accidental dials. It is possible for a child to make an accidental dial to 911 from a land line, but it is more likely for an accidental dial to be made from a cell phone, especially a cell phone that has an emergency dial feature. Children who have made an accidental 911 call may tend to panic and hang up the phone. Hang-ups from accidental 911 calls force the dispatcher to have to call back or to send help to make sure there is no emergency. Instruct your children that, if they should accidentally dial 911, they should stay on the line and explain to the dispatcher that they made a mistake and that there is no emergency.
When you are teaching your small children how to actively dial 911 for emergency services, it would be a good idea to remove the battery from a cell phone or completely unplug the line from a landline phone to prevent accidental dials as the children practice dialing the number.
Picture credit Cécile Graat