In an emergency, would your child know how to call 911?

Boy in phone booth holding landline corded phone and cell phone to compare

A few years ago, we got rid of our landline phone. The only people calling us were telemarketers – even the baby boomer grandparents had moved on to texting us!

Our kids were babies at the time and to be honest, I didn’t think about them needing to use a phone. Who were they going to call anyways??

Wait… Even little three and four year-olds have called 911 and saved a caregiver’s life.

If you DO have a landline phone, don’t stop reading. Knowing how to call 911 from a cell phone is an important skill for kids to have. Emergencies can happen anytime, anywhere.

We’ve entered a new era, haven’t we? Calling 911 isn’t so simple anymore. Do your kids know their address? Do they know your cell phone number off by heart? And now, do they know how to call 911 from your locked cell phone?

Think of the steps involved to call 911 from a cell!

  • Unlock the phone
  • Open the phone app
  • Touch the numbers 9 – 1 – 1
  • Touch “Send”

WOW – that’s a lot of steps for a little kid!

How to teach your kids to call 911

  1. Make your cell phone number and address into a song (ensuring, of course, that they actually understand this is their phone number and address!)
  2. Show your child how to make an emergency call with your locked cell phone. Have your child practice! My current cell phone has an “emergency” button on the locked screen, and that will bring up the cell phone without needing to unlock it. However, with every software update, check to make sure it’s the same steps.
  3. Talk about HOW to dial 9-1-1, and the need to press send.
  4. Explain what will happen when they call 911. A person will answer, asking “Police, Fire or Ambulance?” – tell your child to stay calm, tell the operator why they are calling, their name, how old they are and and to give their home/cell number plus their address.
  5. Don’t forget to discuss WHEN to call 911 – what’s an emergency? What’s NOT an emergency? Tell your child that if they ever call 911 by mistake, stay on the line and tell the operator it was an accident. Otherwise, concerned police will be knocking on your door!
  6. Give your child a “plan b” – if they can’t call 911, who can they ask for help? Maybe they could run to a neighbour’s house or flag down a passing car.

Going out without the kids?

If you don’t have a landline, will you leave your cell phone behind with a babysitter? Do your children know how to use someone else’s cell phone? Do your kids know your partner’s cell phone number? I don’t really have the answers myself. I don’t know if it’s worth getting a landline or VoIP phone or just keeping an old cell phone charged and available for 911 calls. For me, it helped to understand how 911 works and how to access it according to the CRTC.

Obviously, we can’t plan for every worst-case scenario. But if there’s an emergency, I want my kids to be able to respond – my life could depend on it.

Person laying on ground with police officer looking over and young boy standing

How does your family handle this? Do your kids know how to call 911 from a cell phone? Do you have a landline phone? If not, what’s your plan for providing access to 911 for your children? We’d love to hear from you:

For parenting information or to speak with a public health nurse (every Monday to Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.) simply dial 311 or 905-825-6000.

About Andrea Scott RN

I’m a public health nurse with the HaltonParents team – you'll find me on Facebook, Twitter and on this blog, writing about all things parenting. I’ve been working for the Halton Region Health Department since 2006 and my focus has been on supporting parents with babies and little kids. I have two little ones myself, “Pumpkin” and “Monkey” who give me plenty to write about! :)
This entry was posted in Children & Tweens, Keeping Your Child/Tween Safe, Keeping Your Toddler & Preschooler Safe, Parenting, Parenting Your Child/Tween, Parenting Your Toddler & Preschooler, Play, Growth & Development, Toddlers & Preschoolers and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to In an emergency, would your child know how to call 911?

  1. Sara Lee says:

    We thought once about giving up our landline. After talking about we decided against it for similar reasons. We also talked about the cost of getting a cell phone for a school aged child, who let’s be honest does not need a cell phone! We didn’t have cell phones until we were in University and we survived just fine, I have no intention of having to work extra hours just to play for another $50 + bill!

    • Andrea Scott RN says:

      Thanks for sharing Sara! I like that you recall there was a time without cell phones and how we all survived just fine 😉 ~Andrea S, RN

  2. Patricia Tyrrell says:

    The thing about fixed landlines is that the ANI/ALI (Automatic Number Information/Automatic Location Information) works extremely well. When a landline is used to call 9 -1-1, the address and phone number associated with the call is automatically dumped into the PSAP (Public Safety Answering Point) computers. If a caller is unable to speak after the call has been placed, the first responders will have an address to which they can respond. Unfortunately cell phones, due to their very nature of being mobile devices, cannot automatically give an exact location when 9-1-1 is called. It is up to the call taker to determine this information through questioning the caller. Unlike what you see on TV or in the movies, there is no immediate satellite view of a caller’s location…we may be able to get a general location depending on which cell phone tower is ‘pinged’, but those locations are still quite broad (think square kilometres, not square feet!)

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