Teach Your Child to Call 911

In today’s society it is more important than ever to teach our children the basic skills they need to survive an emergency. As parents, we often focus all of our attention on protecting our children from anything or anyone who would do them harm, and so can underestimate how much they can do for us in an emergency. If you ask the average parent if their children know what to do in an emergency you will probably be told, “Sure, they know to dial 911”. However, what your child says on the phone after they dial 911 can actually be just as important.

So your child knows how to dial 911 – that is an important step in the right direction. But is it enough? What questions will the dispatcher ask them? Will they know what to say? Do they know their home address? Requesting emergency services can be a stressful experience for adults, so we can only imagine the difficulties involved when dealing with children. Additionally, with the widespread phenomena of cellphones replacing traditional home phones, there is an additional layer of complexity before help can arrive. While it may seem harmless on the surface, many do not realize that cell phones do not provide the location of the emergency in the same way that home phones do. Although emergency dispatchers are excellent at what they do, without knowing where to send their resources, they can do little to help.


The first thing you should ask yourself is “Does my cell phone require a security code prior to making a call?” Although the majority of cell phones allow emergency dialing without applying a code, this sometimes requires a slightly different button sequence to accomplish and could be confusing to a child if not practiced (it is important to note that close supervision is recommended during this training to reduce the risk of accidental emergency calls). Another big difference that is often overlooked is the need to press “send” after dialing 911 from a cell phone in order to complete the call, verses dialing from your home phone. There are many apps available that can assist in teaching children how to dial 911.

Knowing What to Say First

Now that they have made the call, what should they say? Most emergency dispatchers will answer the phone by saying “911, what is your emergency?” In the public safety world, it is important for them to know the type of emergency (Fire, Police, Medical) that you are experiencing in order to send the appropriate resources. Understanding the sensitivity of the situation, dispatchers have learned effective methods to ask questions when dealing with young children. It is important to tell your kids that they can say things like “My mommy fell”, or “There’s smoke in the house” when calling for help.

The next questions asked will probably be “What’s your name?” and “Do you know where you live?” It is very important that you teach your children to memorize their own address. One of the best ways to achieve this is to test them often, such as during playtime, bath time, and before bed. Parents are also encouraged to post emergency contact information at a centralized location in the home. This could be crucial in the case of a babysitter who is unfamiliar with your home address during an emergency. Lastly, if the home has a traditional home telephone, knowing this number is also an important piece of information to have available and for children to memorize; in the event the caller cannot remember the home address and are calling from a cell phone, emergency personnel can usually identify the registered address using the home phone number through their data systems.

Knowing the simple ABC’s of 911 can help save lives. It is important to educate your family on dealing with emergencies, giving them the tools they need to be successful.