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Teaching Your Child About Dialing for Help

Teaching Your Child What To Say When He Dials For Help

By the age of 3 or 4, most children are ready to become familiarized with the emergency numbers of 911 and "0" for operator. This education process should include such things as: when to place a call to one of these numbers; what the child should say and do once the call is placed; and how to actually find and dial the numbers on the phone. It is helpful to unplug a real phone and actually practice dialing and role-playing an emergency call with a child.

A child needs to be clear that if they are lost, or scared, when they are away from home, calling home may not be the best thing to do. Here are some important points to include in the discussion:

  • There is always someone to answer the phone at 911 or "0" while there may not always be someone home at your house when you call.
  • These calls are free, and you may not always have money on you.
  • When 911 sends someone to help, they are probably very nearby and can get there quickly.
  • If a child is lost and cannot tell someone where they are, 911 can trace the call.
  • If a child has left their area code and didn't realize it, they might not reach home, but 911 and "0" work within any area code.

Here are five essential questions that parents should approach:

What is an emergency
Any situation that may require immediate attention. Some obvious emergencies are fires, car accidents, and injuries. There are other emergency situations that may not be so apparent, but nonetheless require the same type of attention.An emergency can also be when someone feels endangered or threatened by another person. When giving a child examples you should include such things as a robber or a bully, as well as a person who might want to take or molest a child.

When should I call 911 or "0"?
A child should be instructed to call 911 or "0" whenever there is an emergency or if they feel scared, threatened or confused by someone's actions and there is nobody with them from whom they could seek immediate assistance.

Which is better 911 or "0"?
Calling 911 is one step quicker to reaching help than dialing "0". However, children cannot always remember 911, so it is important to teach them both.

Some areas do not have 911. If you are not sure, it is important to call your local police station and ask. Often in areas that do not have 911, calls placed to that number will still be routed to the local police.

Will I get in trouble if I call 911 and it turns out not to be an emergency
Explain to children that they will never get in trouble for calling 911, even if everything ends up to be OK. It is always better to trust your instincts and reach out for help even when you are not sure that something is wrong. People only get in trouble for calling 911, when they do it to play a joke.

Often in situations involving inappropriate attention from a grown-up, children are unsure about what is going on. They need to be encouraged to seek help not just when they are certain that there is a problem, but to assist them in deciphering instances when they are uncertain. Molesters go to great lengths to confuse children and veil their intentions. Children need to feel comfortable seeking help interpreting situations in which their senses tell them something is not right.

What do I say when I place an emergency call
A child needs to understand that when they place the call, they must immediately say, "I have an emergency," "I need help," or anything else that lets the person on the other end of the phone know it is an emergency and assistance is needed. Children need to be prepared that they will be asked questions, and they must do their best to answer them. If the child is too scared and cannot talk, they need to know to stay on the line and someone will tell them what to do and trace the call. Most importantly, a child should learn never to hang-up until the person on the other end says that it is OK. Remember 911 and "0" are always free.

The ABCs of Safety


  • Alert
    -- Walk with your head held high and pay attention to what is going on around you.
  • Beware
    -- Listen to and trust your instincts at all times.
  • Cautious
    -- Take no chances. If you think something may be wrong, it probably is. If it isn't, it does not matter and no harm is done.

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