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Reviewed by the Faculty of Harvard Medical School

Teach Your Kids To Use 911

It is important that children know how to get help in case of an emergency, and it is not enough to tell a child, "If something happens to Mommy or Daddy or one of your friends, call 911." A young child may not understand this simple message.

Perhaps you’ve heard stories about mistaken 911 calls. For example, a little boy living in a Philadelphia suburb reportedly called 911 when he couldn't find his "friend" Marge. He was calm on the phone, despite telling the dispatcher that he was home alone. When the police arrived, the boy's confused mother answered the door. Apparently, the boy had awakened from a nap while his mom was in the shower. When she didn't answer his calls, and he couldn't find his Marge Simpson doll, he called 911.

Most 4-year-olds are ready to learn the 911 lesson. Here are some suggestions for getting the right messages about 911 across to children.

  • Describe possible emergencies. Fires, someone bleeding a lot or someone not moving are examples of emergencies.
  • Teach your child to always try to find a parent or adult when an emergency occurs. If an adult is not available, the child should then call 911.
  • Make sure your child knows his address. In most towns, 911 operators can find the location even without this information, but it takes longer. Fortunately, most cell phones can be located or can be GPS-enabled in an emergency (only when 911 is dialed from the phone).
Last updated December 3, 2009




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