Can Your Child Save Your Life?

911 LOGO

Back in the good ol’ days, when everyone had a landline, it was easy to teach your kids to pick up the phone and dial 9-1-1. Now, in a world of endless technology, calling for help in an emergency can prove to be more challenging.


My daughters (6 and 8 years old) who both attend an iSchool, both have iPods Touches, and both use iPads daily in class, could not figure out how to call 9-1-1 on my iPhone. I was beyond shocked when I decided to test them (under the calmest of circumstances) and they fumbled through my phone before becoming frustrated and giving up.

As a single mom, it scared me to think that something could happen to me and my girls would have no idea how to call for help. As a former Park Ranger and Volunteer Firefighter, I was disappointed in myself that I hadn’t even thought to go through this with my kids. Thankfully, it wasn’t too terribly hard to teach them. These are the steps I followed:

I started on the lock screen where you swipe to the right to unlock or go to the emergency screen.

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I have a passcode to keep the kids out of my phone, so they would likely have to use the emergency call function to call for help.

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I directed each one through the steps while they performed them.


When it came time to dial 9-1-1, I made sure they didn’t actually push call. I asked them repeat the steps several times over to make sure they had it.

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I then unlocked my phone and directed them through the following steps. First, get out of an app by pressing the home button and finding the phone app.

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Next find the dial pad.

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Pretend to push send. A few days later, I asked them to go through the process to make sure they still remembered.

Some additional things you can teach your child in case of an emergency:

  • Their home address and to associate that address with their actual home. Now that we have cell phones everywhere, they may have to call when they’re not at home and giving their home address to the dispatcher could cause confusion even with GPS capabilities.
  • How to describe what’s happening. Dispatchers are superheroes, they work crazy hours, deal with crazy people, and can still extrapolate a great deal of information from a frightened child. You can, however, help the situation by describing to your child what a dispatcher may say, ask, and how they need to answer as clearly and concisely as possible.
  • The basics of CPR/First Aid. This awesome article from has some great tips. 
  • What situations dictate calling 9-1-1. Help them understand the importance of not calling when unnecessary. One way I explained it to my kids was that if the dispatchers at 9-1-1 are on the phone with you and you don’t really need them, they may not be able to help someone that really does need them. On a semi-related note, don’t ever vilify the dispatchers, police, or firefighters. I have heard parents threaten their small children with being arrested if they don’t clean their room, or that the police will take them to jail if they call 9-1-1 and don’t have a legitimate emergency. This really irritates me. Children need to know that police, firefighters, dispatchers, and other emergency personnel are there to help, not hurt, especially in emergency situations. If your child calls when they think it’s an emergency and it turns out not to be, it’s not the end of the world. Better to be safe than sorry. If they call when they know it’s not an emergency, well, let’s just say they’ll be rather embarrassed having to explain to the police/firefighters why they wasted their time.

I have heard of parents teaching their kids to call another parent, aunt/uncle, or grandparent in the event of an emergency. This could work, and though I wouldn’t discredit any parent for their methods, I would personally fear that that other parent, aunt/uncle, or grandparent may not be able to reach the phone. 9-1-1 is always there. Period. The Today Show had an interesting article where a 3 year old called “auntie” and left a message which her “auntie” received in a timely manner and was able to get help for the girl’s pregnant mother, so I’m not saying it couldn’t work, just that it’s not as reliable as 9-1-1.

My last tip, and possibly most important tip, would be to role play. Practice. Seriously, you may feel stupid, but practicing in a calm situation may help your child act in a stressful and scary situation.

I hope this helps other parents, if only to bring up a subject they may not have thought about before. If you have anything to add, I would love to hear about it in the comments!

~ Thankfully Exhausted

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