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Teaching children about 911 can be an important lesson

Most adults do not give a second thought to calling 911 in the event of an emergency. But what happens when the adult is unable to call?

What to do in the event of an emergency is something all parents need to talk to their children about, said Debbie Richardson, Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension parenting assistant specialist.

"Some parents think their children are too young to learn how to call for help. However, this information can be life-saving for adults involved in an emergency situation," Richardson said. "It's important to teach your child to call 911 from the house phone, not your cell phone. When a call is placed from a house phone, the child really doesn't have to say anything in order to get help. Obviously, the more detailed information available to emergency crews, the better the response will be. Very young children may not be able to remember their address, but with enhanced 911 systems, help can still arrive."

To start with, make sure your child understands what an emergency is. Use examples such as "mommy won't wake up," "my daddy fell down," "a stranger is trying to get in the house," or "there's a fire." Also explain what situations are not emergencies to call 911, such as a skinned knee, a lost pet, or a missing bike--and it is not permissible to make up things or call as a joke.

"If your child is unsure about what situation really constitutes an emergency, tell him to listen to his gut feelings. Although there's a chance he may be wrong, it's better to be safe than sorry," she said.

Make sure your child understands the importance of staying on the line once the call is made. In most cases, the 911 dispatcher will keep the child on the line until responders arrive. These dispatchers are trained to help keep children calm in an emergency situation.

Practice calling 911 on an unplugged phone. The parent can pretend to be the dispatcher while the child makes a call. The parent should ask questions about the pretend emergency, such as: Where do you live? What type of emergency is this? Who needs help? Is the person awake and breathing? Do this activity a number of times because children like make-believe and repetition.

Richardson said parents should stress to children the importance of listening to the dispatcher and answering any questions to the best of their abilities. If a child does not know the answer to a question, he should simply say "I don't know."

"Children may view the questions as some sort of quiz and feel they've let someone down if they don't know the answer," she said. "It's much better for them to just say they're not sure and move on to the next question."

Children should also be told to speak clearly while on the phone with the dispatcher. Sometimes when children are nervous or scared, they can mumble or speak inaudibly. Stress the importance of being heard and understood.

Also, explain that they may be given first aid instructions or other directions by the dispatcher. With young children, also talk about emergency workers who might come to help, such as police officers, firefighters and paramedics.

Keep a list of emergency numbers, home address and phone number near each phone. Include numbers where parents or other adults can be reached, such as work phone and cell phone numbers. If any family member has a specific medical condition, talk about those with the child and list with the emergency numbers.

"Even though you may think your child is too young, start working with him at an early age to call 911 in the event of an emergency," Richardson said. "It can mean the difference in life and death."



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