Talking About 911 With Kids
Everyone needs to know about calling 911 in an emergency. But 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 emergencies and what to do if one happens.
For younger children, it might also help to talk about who the emergency workers are in your community — police officers, firefighters, paramedics, doctors, nurses, and so on — and what kinds of things they do to help people who are in trouble.
When to Call 911
Teach kids that a 911 emergency is when someone needs help right away because of an injury or an immediate danger. For example, they should call 911 if:
- there's a fire
- someone is unconscious after an accident, drinking too much, or an overdose of pills or drugs
- someone has trouble breathing, like during an asthma flare-up or seizure
- someone is choking
- they see a crime happening, like a break-in, mugging, etc.
- there's a serious car accident
Kids may feel scared or nervous if they have to call 911. Tell them that the emergency operators who answer the phone talk to a lot of kids who are nervous or worried when they call. Tell them to stay as calm as they can.
Make sure your kids know that even though they shouldn't give personal information to strangers, it's OK to trust the 911 operator. Explain that the emergency operator will ask them what, where, and who questions such as:
- "What is the emergency?" or "What happened?"
- "Where are you?" or "Where do you live?"
- "Who needs help?" or "Who is with you?"
They should give the operator all the information they can about what the emergency is and how it happened. 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.
Other Things to Know About 911
- Make sure your kids understand that calling 911 as a joke is a crime in many places. Every prank call or unnecessary call to 911 can delay a response to someone who needs help.
- Kids should make sure they're safe before calling 911. For example, if there's a fire in your home, they should know to leave the house before calling 911.
- Although most 911 calls are now traced, it's still important for your kids to have your street address and phone number memorized.
More Safety Tips
Here are some other safety tips to keep in mind:
- Always refer to the emergency number as "nine-one-one" not "nine-eleven." In an emergency, a child may not call the number correctly if trying to find the "11" button on the phone.
- Make sure your house number is clearly visible from the street so that police, fire, or ambulance workers can easily locate your address.
- 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.
Reviewed by: Elana Pearl Ben-Joseph, MD
Date reviewed: 10/03/2018