What If Your Child Needed to Call for Help?

7 tips on how to teach your kids what to do in case of an emergency

By Amy Ghiglieri, publisher of Macaroni Kid Frederick, Md. October 1, 2020

When I was pregnant with my second child, it hit me one day that my oldest, who was three at the time, did not know how to call for help. As a mom, I always have a "what if" scenario running through my head. As a very pregnant mom in a new area with a 3-year-old, I had a million of them. 

If I had a medical issue, would she know what do?

I had spent so much time trying to keep her off my phone that it backfired on me when I realized she didn’t even know how to make a call. So I set out to teach her. Here's how I did it: 

1. Repeat and play

Repetition and strategic play will be your friends in preparing your toddler for an emergency and not scaring them during the practice drills. Make the scenario into a game. We played hide and seek numerous times so she would know when it was and wasn’t OK to use my phone to call for help. Blank's Children's Hospital in Iowa suggests apps like DialSafe Pro and Teach 911 for practicing how to dial 911.

2. Teach them how to use your phone to call for help

If you don’t think they are able to remember the code to unlock your phone, show them where the emergency button is on the lock screen. For older kids, you can also show them how to unlock your phone and call someone. Tip: set emergency contact numbers in your favorites for easier access.

3. Keep a list of emergency information in an easy-to-find location

Keep a list of emergency information, that includes phone numbers, near each phone for your kids or babysitter. This should include police, fire, and medical numbers, as well as a number where you can be reached, including your cell phone and work number. In the confusion of an emergency, calling from a printed list is simpler than looking in the phone book or figuring out which is the correct speed-dial number. The list should also include known allergies (especially to any medication), medical conditions, and insurance information. (Get organized with our FREE Macaroni Kid family safety binder!)

4. Set rules

I told my daughter that the only time she should use my phone to make a call was if she could not wake me, or if she couldn’t find me in the house after looking in every room. Setting ground rules is important so they don’t call 911 while you are just going to the bathroom.

5. Make sure your child knows your name, phone number, and address

You'd be surprised how many kids don't know this basic information. I love this song to teach your child their phone number (warning: It's going to get stuck in your head!):

6. Explain that an emergency is a time to talk to strangers

... and maybe even open the door to them!

We teach our kids not to talk to strangers, but we also need to explain that they are allowed to talk to people when they call for help. Teaching your child how to open the door for emergency workers is a tricky one. With my daughter, I knew they I could show her how to open the door and she would never do it. When it was time for my little boy to learn what to do in an emergency, we didn’t encourage him to open a door ever. He didn’t need someone showing him how to escape from the house! Use your best judgment, but know the paramedics will find a way in if the door is locked.

7. Come up with a Plan B

What if your phone isn't an option? Finding your phone might not be the easiest thing for a child to do in case of an emergency, so it's important to come up with a Plan B that works for your family. Going to a trusted neighbor's house might work. Or keeping a charged prepaid phone that's just for emergencies in an easy-to-reach desk drawer is another option. 

Emergencies are scary, but equipping your littles to act calmly from a young age and to be prepared can make all the difference!

Amy Ghiglieri is the publisher of Macaroni Kid Frederick, Md.