The very idea of your child being forced to deal with a scary and strenuous emergency situation is probably downright repellent, but as a parent, one of your most important jobs is making sure that they’re properly equipped to handle anything life throws their way. Even though she may not ever have to put the knowledge to use, simply knowing that your child is prepared to handle an emergency can give you immeasurable peace of mind.
Explain the Difference Between an Emergency and a Problem
For kids, a sense of urgency can accompany a simple problem just as it does a legitimate emergency. Kids need to know how to reach emergency services, how to dial 911 and what to do when she’s speaking to a dispatcher, but also when it’s appropriate to call in the first place. It’s not always easy for little ones to distinguish between problems that require the attention of a parent or trusted adult, and actual emergencies that warrant police, emergency medical or firefighter services. The first step to explaining emergency preparedness to kids is helping them understand what an emergency is and what situations can be handled by a parent or caregiver.
Talk About 911
Your child needs to know how to call 911 in an emergency, and what to tell the dispatcher she reaches. Practicing 911 calls can be done safely with a cell phone that’s been stripped of the battery or a landline that’s not plugged in to the wall. When you’re working on this lesson, it’s a wise move to talk about what your child should do if she ever calls 911 accidentally. Hanging up without explaining that the call was inadvertent wastes the time and resources of dispatchers because they’re required to call back to make absolutely certain that there is no emergency.
In the event of a real emergency, your child will need to give the dispatcher her full name, her address and be able to explain the nature of the emergency to the best of her abilities. She should also know that the dispatcher will want her to remain on the line until emergency service providers arrive so that she doesn’t immediately hang up after sharing that information.
Work Out a Home Evacuation Plan
In the event of a fire or a natural disaster, your entire family will need to have a coordinated evacuation plan to ensure that everyone makes it out of the house safely. Explain to your child that all material possessions, even favorite ones, can be replaced and that it’s far more important for them to exit the house than it is to save their belongings. Make sure that she knows how to get out of the house if you’re not able to reach her, to make her way to a pre-arranged family meeting place and what she should do when she arrives there first.
Discuss Region-Specific Natural Disasters
You probably won’t need to waste much time on teaching a child that lives in the Midwest how to manage a hurricane, but she will need to know what to do in the event of a tornado. Talking about the natural disasters that are most likely to occur in your area and making a specific plan to deal with them is imperative, especially if you live in a region that’s particularly prone to environmental emergencies.
Role Play Specific Scenarios
One of the best ways to determine how much your child knows and what she still needs to learn about emergency preparedness is to role play specific scenarios that she could potentially encounter. There’s a reason why public schools practice routine fire drills: they help kids prepare in a relatively low-stress environment for an emergency so that, in a high-pressure situation, they know how to react. Role playing serious injury situations, weather emergencies, a house fire and even potential intruder situations gives you an idea about what your child knows and helps you teach them more detailed information so that they’re prepared to handle any emergency.
It’s easy to become so wrapped up in teaching your child the basics of emergency preparedness that you forget how easily frightened little ones really are. While you’re teaching her how to handle a natural disaster or emergency, make sure that you also explain to your child that she’s safe and protected. Let your child know that these things probably won’t happen to her, but that it’s your job to make sure that she knows what to do in a worst-case scenario. Also let her know that there will almost certainly be an adult looking after her and making sure that she stays safe while you’re teaching her how to handle an emergency independently.