We live in an uncertain world, where it seems that anything can happen in an instant. As parents, it is our responsibility to equip our children with the necessary knowledge about what they should do when an unthinkable situation happens. While schools may host fire and earthquake drills, we need to make sure that our kids also know what to do if something like that happens at home. Here’s how you can effectively teach your children to respond to an emergency.
Define the Emergency
Before you can teach your children to respond to an emergency, they should know what is considered an emergency. As Curious George learned, it’s not a good idea to bother emergency professionals with things that aren’t really an emergency! Your kids probably know about police officers, firefighters, and EMTs, but it would help if you educated them about when to call these community helpers. For example, if they think someone suspicious is following them, they should know that they should alert the police.
Make sure your kids know to respect emergency crews and to go to them in case of help. Kids shouldn’t be scared of police officers or others in uniform. Community events are often good times to say hi to a policeman or firefighter so your kids know these people are friendly and helpful.
Potential emergencies to discuss with your kids include:
- house fire
- power outage
- car accident
- parent getting injured
Understand What Your Kids Can Handle
You must know how much your children can handle depending on their maturity. The lessons you will teach your 6-year-old will be different from what you will tell your 13-year old. However, the main idea is that they should be able to recognize the warning signs of a potential emergency and what tools are available that would allow them to protect themselves and those around them. Older children should have a solid understanding of when they need to take action, including running away from a dangerous situation.
Regularly reviewing your emergency plans also helps kids be prepared. Just as their school may host fire and earthquake drills, you should do the same at home. Repetition can make potential emergencies less scary, and help your kids actually remember what to do if it should happen. Plan a bi-annual family meeting to go over your emergency and safety plans. If you have older children, discussing news events could be a good way to brainstorm what to do in an emergency.
Staying Alert in Public Spaces
While it may be easy to become distracted, there may be instances when our children will be walking right into a dangerous situation. Children can be too focused on fiddling with their phones that they no longer pay attention to what is going on around them. My older girls have even tried reading while walking!!! Teach your children always to stay alert when they are outdoors. For example, when we’re out hiking, we talk about watching for wild animals and being aware of the people and environment around us.
In public spaces or events, point out to your kids who the staff or helpers are. For example, if your child is lost in the grocery store, can they find a staff member to help them locate you? When we’re at the ski hill, the girls know how to identify the lift attendants. At the pool, they can find a life guard. Make sure your kids know who is a safe person to turn to when they need help outside the home.
Teach Children about 911
One of the critical things that you should teach your child in case of an emergency is calling emergency services or 911. First, you should place the phone where it would be easily accessible to them. Teach them how to use it so they can connect to the operator immediately. If you only have a mobile phone at home, set an emergency button that they can quickly press.
They should know the importance of dialing the number and providing the necessary information to the responders. Teach them what a 911 dispatcher can do. You can tell younger kids that it is a unique number to call in case of an emergency. If you can, give examples of situations where calling the number would be necessary.
It’s also a good idea to teach your children YOUR phone number in case they need to call you. If they are at a friend’s house or school and need to call, they should know your number (and possibly where to find a phone). When we are at amusement parks or other venues, I write my phone number on my younger kids’ arms so that they can find a helper to call me if they get lost. If your child is home alone or babysitting, talk to them about when they should call you and when they could call 911.
Introduce Basic Life Support
If you have older children who can take charge, it would also help start introducing basic life support. You can enroll in emergency medical courses for resuscitation and teach them about what they can do if someone in the family may suffer from a heart attack. This knowledge would also be useful when they get older. According to the American Heart Association (AHA), as much as 45% of individuals with out-of-hospital cardiac arrests survive due to bystander CPR.
Our local recreation centres offer both “Home Alone” courses for kids and Babysitter / First Aid courses for kids. Sunshine has done both of these, which made me feel more confident about either letting her stay home by herself or babysit for another mom. Now that Lily is turning 10, I’ll be putting her into a similar course. Look for courses like this in your community to help equip your kids with the information they need.
Have an Emergency Plan
All your teachings should be strengthened with a carefully laid-out emergency plan. This means you should have a prepared emergency kit, and everyone knows where they can access it. You should also teach them about different situations and what they should do. For example, if your child wanders off at a crowded event and gets lost, they should know where they should go to reunite with you. It is also vital that your kids know how to contact you or an alternative person in case you become unavailable.
Books and movies are a great way to bring up the topic of emergencies and how to deal with them. Here are some ideas and examples for you.
- Home Alone. Yes, this movie is pretty funny and implausible, but it’s also an opportunity to discuss what your kids should do if someone tries to break in, get left behind, or see someone suspicious. Blasting tar and feathers at an intruder is rather impractical, so what else could Kevin have done?
- Once Upon a Dragon: Stranger Safety for Kids (and Dragons) uses fairy tales to teach kids about stranger danger.
- No Dragons for Tea is another book in the same series that teaches kids about fire danger.
- The Berenstain Bears Learn about Strangers is another kid-friendly resource for discussing stranger danger with your children.
- Stop, Drop and Roll: A Jessica Worries Book about Fire Safety will help kids extinguish their fire safety worries along with Jessica.
While you may not have the capacity to set up a panic room, you can still do so much in preparing your kids for an emergency. Take these tips into consideration when preparing with your children.
Have you talked with your kids about fires, earthquakes, and other emergencies? What tips or resources would you share for teaching children to respond to an emergency?