Do your kids know what to do in an emergency? We all plan to have these discussions but our good intentions get pushed aside with thoughts of “it probably won’t happen.” While we hope that’s true, it never hurts to be prepared— especially at this time of year, when kids are visiting relatives or staying with an older sibling or family friend during the holiday breaks. Take the time to be go over all of the what-ifs before they happen.
1. Your child should know how and when to use 911.
Your child should know what an emergency is, as well as how to dial 911 on both a landline and a cell phone. Your child also needs knows how to access the emergency screen on your cell phone without help. If you don’t have a land line in the house, consider getting one. Make sure your child knows how to use the phone in the homes of any babysitters or relatives they might be visiting.
2. Your child should know what to do in the event of a fire.
Just like schools practice fire drills, it’s important for you to have practice fire drills at your home. Make sure your child knows what to do if they hear the smoke detector go off or if they smell smoke. Formulate a plan now on how every member of your family should exit the house in the event of smoke or fire and establish a place to gather outside the house. Take a look at our Fire Safety Checklist for Children for more tips.
3. Your child should know what to do in the event of a natural disaster.
Depending on where you live, you may need to have practice drills for earthquakes and tornadoes. If you live in a flood zone or fire-prone area, you may want to make sure your kids understand your evacuation plan. It’s hard to know how much to tell a child without frightening them, but your goal should be to give them as much information as they need to keep them safe.
4. Your child should know what to do if something happens to their caregiver.
Again, without scaring your child, they should know what to do if the adult caring for them becomes unconscious or otherwise incapacitated. In addition to being able to dial 911 if their caregiver is unresponsive, they should know who they can call or go to (a next door neighbor, for instance) for help. Keep an emergency phone list taped inside a cabinet or pantry door that can be easily accessed.
We don't want to think about it, but we have to.
5. Your child should know what to do if they become separated from you.
Teach your child who they can trust if they get separated from you in a public place. Point out police officers and security guards in uniform or staffed help and information desks. If you’re at a store or other indoor location, point out a sign or display that can be seen from all parts of the building and tell them to meet you there. I also tell my kids to ask for help from “a mom” (a woman with a young child).
6. Your child should know what to do if approached by a stranger.
Start practicing "stranger danger" games with your children as soon as they are able to talk and walk. Every child is different and what they are capable of doing will be determined by their age and temperament, but talk to them about how they should respond if a stranger approaches them. I remind my kids that grown-ups don’t ask little kids for help, they ask other grown-ups. We role play stranger scenarios in the car on the way to school.
7. Your child should know what to do in an active shooter event.
We don’t want to think about it but we have to. Whenever you are in a public place with your child, the first thing you should do is make them aware of all of the exits, not just the one you used. Situational awareness can save your life. It’s also important for you to take a moment to think through what your options might be in the event of an active shooter.
8. Your child needs to know they can come to you about anything they have witnessed or experienced.
Whether it’s a school friend who has made strange comments about their home life, or a babysitter or relative who has said or done things that made them uncomfortable, your child should have absolute faith they can come to you with the information and you will help them resolve it.