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Dialing 911: Teaching Preschoolers to Make Emergency Phone Calls

By Edited Nov 13, 2013 0 0

Emergency - Dial 911!

Would your preschooler know how to make emergency phone calls when necessary? What do they know about dialing 911 or whatever the emergency phone number is for your locality?

Knowing that kids can respond quickly and appropriately to an emergency gives adults peace of mind. When these youngsters know some basic techniques, they feel ready to handle crises, which can lower their stress if an emergency ever occurs. At the least, consider teaching them how to dial 911 for emergency help .

Emergency Reponse Vehicle
Credit: kkiser under royalty free license via SXC, http://www.sxc.hu/photo/361027

Remember N-A-P for 911 Emergency Calls

The first step is to teach kids three vital pieces of information: name, address, phone number. Use the acronym NAP to teach this to them quickly. Make it into a fun game, and they will never realize they are learning emergency preparedness.

Picture this: ask preschoolers if they want to learn their names, addresses and phone numbers (brace yourself for an instant "No,") or if they want to practice N-A-P (whatever you do, don't say "nap." Kids don't ever want to practice napping!) The most likely response from a youngster will be "What's N-A-P?" Their inquisitiveness hooks them, and you have your teachable moment. 

Teach N-A-P like a chant or a cheer:

  1. Parent: What's your N?
  2. Child: Says his or her name
  3. Parent: What's your A?
  4. Child: Says address
  5. Parent: What's your P?
  6. Child: Says phone number
  7. Parent and child together: That's our N, that's our A, that's our P, we know all three! Yeah! (Encourage them to shout - kids love to shout.)

To reinforce the lesson, let them quiz you about your N-A-P, or you can quiz them. Ask them at random times during the day: "Quick—what's your N-A-P?" Be sure to reward them with a small incentive like a sticker.

Work this random testing into their everyday routine and pretty soon, your preschooler can recite this information readily. As a plus, they need to learn this information by the time they go to school, so now they are better prepared for emergencies, and they have a head start on being ready for school. Now it's time to move on to learning how to place an emergency phone call to get help.

Kids Learn What Happens When They Call 911

What Number Will You Call?

While most areas of the United States use 911 for emergency calls, if your local area uses a different number, teach your child the correct number.

Teach them to say "nine-one-one" and help them find the matching numbers on the telephone keypad. Write the numbers 9-1-1 on paper and have them take their fingers and trace over them. Hearing, touching and seeing the numbers helps them retain the information better.

Tip: Don't use "nine-eleven" because there is no number 11 on the telephone keypad, which could confuse these little learners if they are looking for that number instead of the number 1.

911 Calls Are No Joke

It's also important to teach them the seriousness of making an emergency phone call. Fake emergency phone calls can delay critical help to someone in need, and such calls are illegal in most states.

How to Dial 911

You'll need some inexpensive props such as play telephones and cell phones for this lesson. You could even use an older model, disconnected cell phone to make the pretend experience seem realistic.

Perfect Practice Makes Perfect

Start by making pretend phone calls in which your child tells an imaginary person who they are (name), where they live (address), what their telephone number is (phone), and what kind of emergency is happening (for instance, someone has fainted or is badly hurt). Teach them that most of the time the person who answers the phone will say something like: "911. What's your emergency?"

Find a friend or relative who is willing to help you, and allow your child to use your landline or mobile phone to call them so they can practice giving this information to someone who can respond to them.  Most grandparents or other extended family members would be delighted to help with an important lesson like this one, and as a bonus, they can be a positive reinforcement for the child's efforts.

Time for Pretend Play

Once your child is able to relate these three pieces of information with ease, move on to some role play: making imaginary emergency phone calls for situations such as:

  1. The child is the caller and you pretend to be the 911 dispatcher. (Let them volunteer as much of the information as possible; only prompt them when necessary.)
  2. Switch roles: you're the caller and they are the dispatcher.
  3. Pretend you have fainted, are unconscious, and they must make the call without any help.
  4. Switch roles again.
  5. Pretend you are conscious but unable to move, so they must make the call, but they have you to help them. 
  6. Switch roles again.

The goal here is to empower your kids to be calm and composed when or if an emergency occurs. Preschoolers learn best by imitating others and having lots of rote repetition of new material. Harness the power of pretend play, and you can easily teach them to respond to an emergency in a stress-free way.

Play It Safe - Teach Kids What to Do in Emergencies
Credit: Onatos under royalty free license via SXC, http://www.sxc.hu/photo/609764

You've Fallen and Can't Get Up

Ask your preschooler if he or she knows what to do if you or someone else faints. (You may have to explain the word "faint" or even demonstrate it to them.) Let them pretend to faint a few times as well to make the lesson more enjoyable.

Next, teach them the following steps:

  1. If I faint or if you cannot wake me, use the telephone to dial 911 if there are no other adults around who can make the call. 
  2. Tell the person who answers your N-A-P and why you called. 
  3. Stay on the telephone until the adult tells you to hang up.
  4. Follow the adult's instructions.
  5. Stay here with me until help arrives.

Teach your children that emergency personnel, doctors and nurses, and police officers are trustworthy adults, not strangers, so it is okay to talk to them and follow their instructions in an emergency.

Where's That First Aid Kit?

Make sure you have a fully stocked emergency kit or a child's homemade first aid kit, which he or she knows how to find, because the emergency dispatcher could give some basic first aid instructions to him or her.

Praise and Practice Reinforce Positive Behavior

It's important to praise their efforts even if they forget something. The more you practice with them, the easier it is for them to remember exactly what to do. You may want to let them pretend to be a doctor and give you a check-up after your "fall" or even let them put a bandage on an imaginary bump or bruise. In fact, you may find that playing "Emergency" becomes their new favorite game.

Just think about how often they grab their pretend doctor's bag and start caring for their dolls, toys or their stuffed animals that have imaginary boo-boos, fevers or even broken bones. If you make the lessons fun and interactive, they will never realize what an important life skill they've learned.

Learning Other Important Phone Numbers

Once you are confident they've learned how to dial 911, what to say, and what to do until help comes, you might want to consider teaching them how to call the person who is your emergency contact (friend, grandparent and so forth), how to call the police, and how to call the fire department. Post these important phone numbers in a prominent place—the refrigerator is an ideal place—because they may not be able to remember the numbers in a real emergency. Teach them where to look to find these phone numbers if they need them.

Is It Really An Emergency?

The final part of teaching kids to dial 911 and respond to an emergency is to teach them how to determine if something is an emergency. Ask them to tell you what they think happens in an emergency and then give them some examples of emergencies such as someone falling and breaking a bone or a stranger breaking into your house.

Preschoolers can learn who to call in an emergency and to respond to an emergency situation without panicking. If you make the lessons fun and interactive, they will never realize what an important life skill they've learned. 

Remember your goal: to prepare preschoolers for dealing with emergencies and dialing 911 so they won't feel frightened and helpless. While you hope they never need this type of information, it's comforting to know that if an emergency does occur, they know what to do and who.



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  1. Reviewed by Steven Dowshen, MD "Teaching Your Child How to Use 911." Kids Health. 25/02/2014 <Web >
  2. Rana Sampson "Misuse and Abuse of 911." Center for Problem-Oriented Policing. 25/02/2014 <Web >

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