I am always hesitant to talk to my kiddos about a scary situation because I am concerned that even just the suggestion of something bad happening will make them paranoid. I recall when my teen was just about five or six years old, she heard about a friend whose home had been involved in a break-in. Even after assuring her we were safe in our home, showing her how the locks worked on all of the doors and windows and talking about when to call for help, it was many months before she would go to bed without asking repeatedly “are we safe”. It actually made me pretty sad to think her young mind had to deal with that type of anxiety.
The truth is that bad things happen all of the time and the best way to prepare our children to deal with emergencies is to teach them. Just like reading and writing, it is a learned skill that will be useful in many situations. Depending on their ages, you will want to adjust what you say to your children. This is what we came up with to show our kids they can handle an emergency without freaking out.
Discuss what constitutes an emergency versus a problem. This can be explained by stating that an emergency requires immediate help, like calling the police or fire department, but a problem, while still unsettling for a child, can be figured out by calling their parents or even going to a trusted neighbor. For example, if your child comes home to an empty house after school every day, a problem might be they forgot their house key and can not get inside. An emergency would be they come home to find the front door open, but know that no one should be there.
Your discussion should include other examples of possible emergencies and how to handle them. We include things like seeing smoke or fire coming from the house, someone being hurt and unconscious and also food allergy reactions. Although my son carries around an Epi-Pen, 9-1-1 must be called if he has a reaction. Time is vitally important in all of these situations.
Make sure your children know certain phone numbers, like a parent’s cell phone and work numbers. Most teens carry a cell phone nowadays, so program your numbers into their phone, along with trusted neighbors and relatives numbers. Although this negates needing the numbers memorized, they should still know them. Phone batteries die all of the time. This is also a good time to make sure your child really knows their address as well.
This may sound silly, but re-introduce your child to trusted neighbors. Let them know these people are safe havens if you or your spouse is not home to help your child in the case of an emergency or problem. Ask your neighbors to keep their eyes open for street activity, especially around the end of the school day. It does not hurt to chat up the neighbors occasionally to touch base. This also lets your child see that you trust that person.
Whether your child is school aged or in day care, it is imperative you designate a family member or friend as your alternate to pick up your kiddo in the case of an emergency. Make sure your child knows who this person is. Make sure your school/day care personnel has something in writing from you providing permission for this individual to pick up your child and keep it updated each year.
Talk to your kiddos about keeping in contact with you. With practically every child over the age of ten having a cell phone these days, many people, kids and parents alike, have a false sense of security. The truth is that cell phones die, signals can be weak, your child may turn off the sound, they may misplace their phone or simply forget to check in with you. Establish a routine of when and how often your child needs to touch base with you, like:
- when they get inside the house safely after school
- when they walk over to a friend’s home for a visit
- when they leave someone’s home to return
- every thirty minutes if they are out playing at the park or biking
Your child may feel that you are hounding them, but this is a great way to establish trust, show responsibility and make sure they are safe. Ultimately, your kiddos will feel better knowing you know where they are.
Talk about safety in the home. A lot of children spend an hour or more in an empty house after school and they don’t always spend it doing homework. Establish do’s and don’ts with your child like “no turning on the stove” and “no friends in the house while you are alone.” My daughter knows she is not to use the phone or answer the door if she is home by herself, but she can do her homework, watch the TV or have a snack from the fridge.
Safety in the home should also include a plan to evacuate in case of a fire. Walk through the plan with your kids so they can comprehend exactly what to do, whether they are with you or alone. Remind them they are not to go looking for things to take with them. Stress how important it is to just get out of the house. Your plan should include a prearranged spot outside of the house to meet up in case you are separated.
Talk to your children about when to call 9-1-1 and when not to. Although this goes back to Step One, when you teach your child the difference between a problem and an emergency, they need to understand that calling 9-1-1 is for serious situations. Explain that using it to call about a non-emergency can be a crime and may also delay help getting to someone who truly needs it. That said, teach your child that if they are ever in doubt, are hurt or scared and there is no adult to ask, calling 9-1-1 will not get them in trouble. As the saying goes, “It is better to be safe than sorry.”
Finally, encourage your children to talk to you about their concerns and ask questions whenever they want. Go over your plan often and assure your kids that you have done everything you can to make their home a safe place.
Is there anything you would add to this plan? Share in the comments so we can all benefit from our experiences.