Teaching Your Children to Call 911

A child in a blue shirt on a smartphone.

Talking to Your Kids About 911

Most emergencies happen at home. It's important to teach children what to do in the event of an emergency. One of the simplest and most effective ways children can help during a life-threatening situation is by knowing when and how to call 911.

Why Do Children Need to Know How to Call 911?

Ideally, if there's an emergency, an adult should call 911. But there may be a situation where an adult gets hurt, is unconscious, is in danger, or not around. A child may be the only one able to call 911.

In fact, children as young as three can be taught to dial 911 in response to an emergency.

Teach Children to Identify Emergency Situations

Before teaching children how to call 911, it's important to help children recognize and identify emergencies that would warrant a 911 call.

Engage children by asking them what they think an emergency is. Ask them conversational questions too such as:

  • “What would do you think you should do if we had a fire at home?"
  • “Should you call for help if Grandma falls down and stops moving?"
  • “What do you think you should do if Mom can't breathe all of the sudden?"

Show them how to make a call — then go over common questions a 911 dispatcher will ask

It's important to demonstrate how to make a 911 call on a phone to kids. Show them where the nine and one buttons are located on a phone keypad, and how to place a call. Depending on the type of phone, some phones require pushing a green call button, so be sure kids know how each phone works in your household.

Be sure kids know to dial “nine one one" and not “nine eleven" to eliminate confusion and save time in the event of an emergency.

Next, explain to kids that the 911 dispatcher will ask them questions, and it's okay to answer them.

Common questions 911 dispatchers will ask include:

“What happened?"

“What is the emergency?"

“Where are you?"

“Where do you live?"

“Who is with you?"

“Who needs help?"

When to Call 911

Common emergencies when to call 911:

  • There is a serious car accident, or accident at home.
  • Someone is choking or having a severe allergic reaction.
  • Someone is having a stroke or heart attack.
  • Someone is unconscious, whether from an accident, cardiac arrest, or a drug overdose.
  • They see a crime happening (a mugging, a break-in, etc.)
  • There is a fire.

When Not to Call 911

Common instances when not to call 911:

For animals.

As a joke or prank call.

To practice.

When there's no emergency.

For minor cuts or scrapes.

If children are unsure if something is an emergency, let them know they should still call 911. It is better to be safe than sorry.

How to Teach Children to Call 911

After teaching children to recognize and identify emergencies, take the following steps to instruct children to make a 911 call.

Know where the nearest landline and smartphone are located.

During an emergency, children need to be able to quickly locate telephone. It's important to show kids where the landline phone is in your home. If they do not already have a smartphone, show them where they might find a smartphone in your home. The faster a phone is located, the faster someone can call 911.

Teach kids how to unlock a smartphone

Most 911 calls come from a mobile or smartphone. However, smartphones are often locked by a passcode. Teach your children how to make an emergency phone call from a locked phone.

Have children memorize their home address

One of the first questions a 911 dispatcher will ask is where the emergency is taking place. Most emergencies happen at home, so it's important for children know their home address.

You should also teach kids a few landmarks near their home, in case they forget their address in an emergency. If you live in an apartment building, make sure kids know their apartment number.

They should also know their full name and parents' names. Making up a song or game with names and your address can help your child remember them.

General Rules to Teach Children About 911

There are some overall guidelines to keep in mind when talking to your children about what to do in an emergency.

Don't hang up. Even if you call 911 by mistake, or the emergency subsided, you should stay on the phone. If there's no one on the line, the call center will assume that something is wrong and may send help automatically.

Don't text 911. Not every 911 call center can receive texts. Dispatchers can also get more information from a phone call.

Make sure you are safe before making the call. For instance, get out of a burning building before calling 911.

Never call 911 as a joke. A prank call can delay a response to someone else who truly needs help. And in many states, making prank calls to 911 is a crime.

Remind kids to talk slowly and stay as calm as possible during an emergency and when calling 911.

In an emergency, minutes matter. By educating children on how to call 911, they can improve the outcome and potentially save a life.