Talking About 9-1-1 With Kids

How to Call 911

One of the challenges of being a parent is arming your kids with the skills to handle the obstacles life presents. Teaching them how to use 911 in an emergency could be one of the simplest and most important lessons you’ll ever share.

Everyone needs to know about calling 911 in an emergency. Kids also need to know the specifics about what an emergency is. Asking them questions like “What would you do if we had a fire in our house?” or “What would you do if you saw someone trying to break in?” gives you a chance to discuss what constitutes an emergency and what to do if one occurs. Role playing is an especially good way to address various emergency scenarios and give your kids the confidence they’ll need to handle them.

When to Call 911

Part of recognizing an emergency is knowing what is not. A fire, an intruder in the home, an unconscious family member—these are all situations that would require a call to 911. A skinned knee or a lost pet wouldn’t. Still, teach your child that, if they are ever in doubt and there is no adult around to ask, make the call. It’s better to be safe than sorry.

Make sure your kids understand that calling 911 as a joke is a crime in many places.How to Use 911

Although most 911 calls are now traced, it’s still important for your kids to have your street address and phone number memorized. They’ll need to give that information to the operator as a confirmation so time isn’t lost sending emergency workers to the wrong address.

Make sure your kids know that, even though they shouldn’t give personal information to strangers, it’s OK to trust the 911 operator. Walk them through some of the questions the operator will ask, including:

  • Where are you calling from? (Where do you live?)
  • What type of emergency is this?
  • Who needs help?
  • Is the person awake and breathing?

Explain that it’s OK to be frightened in an emergency, but it’s important to stay calm, speak slowly and clearly, and give as much detail to the 911 operator as possible. If they’re old enough to understand, also explain that the emergency dispatcher may give first-aid instructions before emergency workers arrive at the scene.

Make it clear that your child should not hang up until the person on the other end says it’s OK, otherwise important instructions or information could be missed.

More Safety Tips

Here are some additional safety tips to keep in mind:

  • Always refer to the emergency number as “nine-one one” not “nine-11.” In an emergency, a child may not know how to dial the number correctly because he or she is trying to find the “11” button on the phone.
  • Make sure your house number is clearly visible from the street.
  • If you live in an apartment building, make sure your child knows the apartment number and floor you live on.
  • Keep a list of emergency phone numbers handy near each phone for your kids or babysitter.
  • Keep a first-aid kit handy and make sure your kids and babysitters know where to find it. When kids are old enough, teach them basic first aid.