How to teach kids to call 911 in the cell phone age.
Do you have a landline at home?
Do your kids know how to use your cell phone?
Do your kids know how to call 911 in an emergency?
I realized the answer to all of these questions was a big no for us. I hadn’t taught Ben how to call for help in case of an emergency. He isn’t allowed to play with our phones, and he doesn’t know the passcodes to unlock them. And we do not have a landline to make all of this a bit simpler. So it was time to change this. I put together a simple activity to teach children to call 911 and other important phone numbers.
The easiest way to call 911 is on a landline of course. If you have one of those just have your child come to the phone. You can hold down the button so you don’t actually call anyone and have your child press the 9, 1, and 1. Pretty simple.
Cell phones have a few more steps involved. One, most of us have some sort of pass code to keep our phones locked. This makes sense, I don’t want my kids getting in there and playing around with my setting and apps. But it makes it harder if kids need to call for help. Here are the steps we took to learn to call 911.
How To Teach Kids to Call 911
Practice Before You Get On the Phone
Cell phones are full of distractions. So we didn’t use the real phone right away. Instead, I used Post-it notes. Any sort of paper will do, but Post-its are easy. Making a big keypad to work off of made it easier for me to see what numbers Ben was actually touching, as opposed to just writing one out on a piece of paper. I made sure he was pressing the right buttons. And, quite honestly, the largeness of the activity made it more fun. It was different and it really held his attention. It is much easier to teach children something if they are interested and actively engaged. This fit the bill. Plus, easy clean up when we were done.
How To Make A Call
Step One: Where To Dial-Out Calls
There are a lot of options on modern cell phones. I first put a picture of the phone symbol on the wall. This was what Ben would need to push to even get to the stage where he could make a call.
Step Two: Get To the Key Pad
Next, I added a picture of the keypad button. It is hard to make a phone call if you can’t find the numbers to dial. Yes, I have many contacts available for my son to choose from. But he can’t read those yet. He does, however, know his numbers. That makes this the most logical place to go next.
Step Three: Dial the Number
I put a full keypad on our wall for Ben to practice on. Make sure it matches what your child will see on the phone. We walked through dialing both 911 and my phone number. If Ben is ever away from either parent and in need of help I am the most logical one to call first.
Step Four: Make the Call
With a landline, you are done when you have dialed the last number. On cell phones, we need to remember to actually hit the send button. I also had a Post-it with the phone symbol again to remind him to press send and make the call.
Practice On the Real Phone
After we had practiced on our wall phone, it was time to move to the real thing. I thought it was important for Ben to actually see a phone call go through and make one himself. I use my phone all the time, but like a lot of people, I rarely use it for phone calls. But that is what its original intent was.
My husband and I have the same type of phone, so I had Ben use his phone to call mine. (Remember my number is the one he is working to memorize first.)
Use an Unlocked Phone First
We keep our phones locked, like a lot of people. At this point in time, I do not intend to teach Ben how to unlock it. That really defeats the purpose of having a pass code. There is still value in learning how to dial. If Ben is ever somewhere without Pat or me, he could use another grown up’s phone to call us. While at his age I don’t know when that would happen, but it could. And as he gets older and participates in more activities the chances of it happening increase. So he could find himself using an unlocked phone to make a call.
Make the Call
This was Ben’s favorite part. He got to call me! We talked through the steps together first, then I had him try it on his own. He did a great job! He needed some prompting on the actual phone number. We need to practice that a bit more. But otherwise, he nailed it! His eyes lit up when he hit send on one phone and then saw my phone light up with the incoming call. It really solidified in his mind that this works. He can reach out and talk to people this way!
Don’t be afraid to answer and talk for a few moments. This is a great time to practice using your words to answer questions. A lot of little kids will simply nod or shake their heads in response to questions, forgetting that the person on the other end can’t see them. Encourage your child to use their words.
Call Some More!
This is a great time to call other family members. Ben wanted to call basically everyone at this point. Plan ahead and have grandparents ready to take a call. I feel like everyone wins with this. If your child is an early reader this is a great point to go through your contacts and point out those he might need to call in case of an emergency. You could even add emojis to the important numbers so your child knows who he can call.
What About Calling in an Emergency?
A big reason for teaching children to use the phone is if there is an emergency. I am home with the kids, but what if something happens to me and I can’t make a call?
Know Where the Phone Is
This is a pretty easy one for my kids. They like to try to steal our phones so they always know where they are. If you keep your phones in a central location make sure your children know where that is. And yes, I do believe that at ages 3,4,5, and up kids can understand that they are not to touch something despite knowing where it is.
Learn How To Call 911 Without Unlocking the Phone
Most phones have a way to call for emergency help without actually unlocking them and dialing 911 specifically. Learn how your phone does that. I have an iPhone and all you need to do it press the main button until the keypad to unlock shows up. In the bottom left-hand corner, there is the word Emergency. If you touch that emergency services will be called. Ben can’t read that word yet, but he does know his letters. So I showed him how to look for the long word that starts with E. You might need to be creative in how you teach your child to find this function, but it is worth the effort.
If you want your child to actually be able to press the button be sure to turn your phone to airplane mode. That way you won’t accidentally call 911. If you do find that you have actually placed the 911 call do not hang up. Explain that the call was placed on accident while teaching your child to contact 911. If you just hang up emergency services could still be sent out, tying up services that could be used at a real emergency.
What Is an Emergency?
Along with learning how to call for help in an emergency, we needed to talk about what constitutes an emergency. Here are some of the ground rules we have for an emergency.
Are There Any Adults Available to Help?
If there are adults around go to them with any emergencies first. Adults generally should be handling this sort of situation, not a small child. Do as the adult tells you to do.
Is the Adult Unable to Help?
Is there an adult present but unresponsive? I don’t mean like when we are asleep at night. This is if something happens to me while I am alone with the children. First, he is to try to wake me up by any means necessary. If that doesn’t work he is to get the phone and call for help. There is no reason I should be unresponsive except for an emergency.
This is a tough area. You don’t want to scare your children, obviously. And seriously, why would a small child be in an emergency situation without an adult nearby to help? But it is best to be prepared. I tried to keep it simple. Is there a lot of blood? Call 911. Is someone not breathing? Call 911. Do you feel you are in danger of being harmed by a stranger? Call 911.
These requirements will vary based on the everyday dangers your children might face. If you have a pool you might add in if a younger sibling is alone in the pool to call 911, for example. Older children might spend time alone after school and have different reasons why they may call for help. Take the time to really think this through.
What To Tell the Operator
Beyond just teaching kids how to call 911, you will want to review what to say to the operator when they answer. This includes the child’s name, their address if they know it (something else to work on!), and what the emergency is. Once again, practice verbalizing answers not just nodding. The most important thing is to stay on the line. Teach your child to not hang up the phone until emergency services actually arrive.
This isn’t a one and done activity. It is something we bring out pretty frequently. It takes time to memorize phone numbers. This is a skill that needs to be reviewed. I am not one who lives in fear, and I don’t want my kids in a constant state of worry that an emergency can happen at any time. But the truth is an emergency can happen at any time. So it pays to be prepared. Fortunately, this is an easy to set up activity, and one that Ben really enjoyed! He asks to practice on our phones now. I make sure to review what an emergency is too. There is no need for gloom and doom, but I ask the basic questions and remind him what to look for.
Technology has made our lives easier in a lot of ways, especially as parents. But it can cause us to have to think of new ways to teach old skills. The way we learned to call 911 isn’t practical today, especially if you don’t have a landline. No one wants to think there will be an emergency or that their children will ever have to call 911. But it is much better to be prepared. This is a fun and easy way to prepare your children. Safety First!
Cell phone safety isn’t the only safety item to consider with kids these days. Many homes have alarm systems. Do your children know the basics of how they operate? Learn how to select a system that works for your family and how to teach your little one to use it: Security- A New View as A Mom.
Fire safety is another important item to consider. Does your family have a fire safety plan? Learn how to create an implement a home fire safety plan: How To Create a Home Fire Escape Plan.
Here are some additional resources for teaching kids to call 911.