Emergencies can happen at any time, usually when we least expect them. It is always best to be prepared, and this includes making children aware of how to react to an emergency. There have been many documented cases in which young children managed to save their families or themselves by knowing how and when to contact emergency services. With a little training and practice, it is easy to teach children this vital information.

When teaching children about important and emergency phone numbers, the first thing to do is to formulate a list. Instead of providing them with a list right away, allow them to brainstorm. Go through a few different scenarios and ask them to think of who the most appropriate person to contact might be. Along the way, the parents can prompt them with additional suggestions. The final list should include local numbers for emergency services, the nearest hospital, the poison control center, the family doctor, the vet, both parents work and cell phone numbers, and numbers of other close family, friends or neighbors who might be called on in case of any trouble.

At the top of the list, include your home number, address, and insurance details, plus known medical conditions or allergies of family members. Having that information there can make it easier for children (or even adults) to repeat it to emergency personnel on the phone. This list should be placed in an easily accessible area at a height where children can see all the information clearly.

The next step is to teach children about how to use 911. They should be able to differentiate the types of situations that would require calling 911. A good way to do this is to practice different scenarios with them. For example, the parent might ask the child who to call if the house was on fire versus if they had cut their finger. To make sure that children know what information to convey to the 911 operator, help them to practice calling. Do this with a disconnected phone or with a cell phone that has the battery removed. Do not actually call 911 unless there is a real emergency! With the disconnected phone, have the child punch in 9-1-1. Make them speak clearly and calmly and provide their full name, address, and then describe the emergency. Discuss different emergency situations with them, and then ask them to use the disconnected phone to practice calling a pretend operator.

Children should be reminded that even if the emergency situation is scary, they need to speak as calmly as possible so that the operator can take down their information quickly and correctly. Keep practicing until the child is fully comfortable and used to handling a 911 call. After this exercise, remind them that calling 911 is no joke. It should only be done so in the most serious situations. While it is fine for children to read out their home number and address from the emergency phone list, it is also a good idea to help them to memorize it. This can be extremely useful if they ever end up in an emergency away from home. An alternative is to prepare a copy of the emergency phone list and have them carry it with them at all times (perhaps in their school backpack).

By being well prepared for emergencies, and by preparing children as well, we can achieve some peace of mind. It is tremendously reassuring for parents to realize that their children know exactly what to do if an emergency situation arises. It only takes a small amount of time to train children in calling for help, but life-saving results would be well worth it.

The resources below offer helpful materials and further tips on how to teach children about emergency phone numbers.

  • Magnetic Emergency Number List – Print a fun Dora the Explorer phone number list on magnetic paper and attach it to the fridge.
  • What is 911 – Kids can read about what 911 and then learn the 911 rap song to help them remember.
  • When to Call? – Parents and kids can go through sample scenarios together to figure out when to call 911.
  • Portable Number List (DOC) – Parents can fill out this sheet of emergency numbers so that kids can always carry it with them.
  • Emergency Preparedness for Kids – Learn what to do in case of an emergency, including emergency numbers and preparedness kits.

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