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
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
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.