Help Your Family Prepare for Emergencies by Teaching Kids How and When to Dial 911

To observe Emergency Preparedness Month, here are nine tips for teaching kids how to dial 911.

mother looking at cell phone with daughterEven young children are more capable than they’re sometimes given credit for and it is critical that they be taught how to get help in the event of an emergency, particularly in instances where the adult in the home may be incapacitated or in need help. If you’re not sure where to start with teaching your child how to call 911, here are a few tips:

1.  First, explain what 911 is, why it is important, and when to call.

Tell your child that 911 is a special phone number to call when there's an emergency and lives are at risk. Explain that this is what you do when you need the police, the fire department or an ambulance.

2.  Go over how to dial from both a landline and a cell phone.

Keep in mind that even on a locked screen, it is possible to make an emergency phone call. Many children may also be unfamiliar with how landlines work if there isn't one in the home.

3.  Make sure children know their name, their parents' names and their home address as well as what to do when 911 answers.

Dispatchers are trained to speak to children, but a child cannot relay information they don't know. They should remember to:
  • Stay calm and speak slowly
  • Tell the 911 call taker what’s wrong and where they need help
  • Speak up loud and clear when the 911 call taker asks questions
  • Stay on the phone until the 911 call taker tells you it is OK to hang up

4.  Explain what constitutes an emergency and what doesn't, using simple examples.

Examples of when to call 911:
  • 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 attack or seizure
  • someone is choking
  • they see a crime happening, like a break-in, or someone hurting another person
  • there’s a serious car accident
Examples of when not to call 911:
  • if there is no emergency
  • for animals (except when they pose a threat to the safety of a person)
  • as a game/prank/joke
  • just to practice
  • for help with homework

5.  For young children, it is a good idea to talk about different types of emergency workers.

Explain who police officers, firefighters and paramedics are and what kinds of things they do to help people in trouble.

6.  Make sure kids know that in the event of a fire or burglary, it is important to get out of the house before calling for help.

Advise them that they can also go to a trusted neighbor's home to call 911.

7.  Instruct children to follow the dispatcher's directions and to never hang up the phone until they've been told to do so.

It may take several minutes to confirm where a cellphone call originates, and even then, it may not pinpoint an exact location. 

8.  When you are out and about, help your child recognize landmarks close to your home.

Dispatchers may try to figure out a child's location by asking what's around them. It helps if they can describe nearby landmarks or surrounding homes.

9.  Practice.

Going over this once may not be enough. Practice periodically to help children retain the information.

Contact Information