You are walking down the stairs with a basket of clothes. You take a step down and your foot lands on a toy. You drop the basket and try to grab the handrail. Your hand misses and you fall, tumbling down the stairs. That is the last thing you remember. At the base of the stairs is your preschooler! She saw the whole thing. “Mommy! Mommy! Talk to me!!” she screams.

Let’s face it. Life is unpredictable! You never know when an emergency will occur. One of the scariest situations is thinking your preschooler must call 911. Can she access the cell phone or do you keep it locked with a password? Do you have a home phone so “enhanced 911” will automatically tell the dispatcher your address? These are important things to consider and you need to be proactive!! Teaching a child to dial 911 is relatively easy and you will feel a sense of peace knowing that they can call.

First things first. What is an emergency?

Sometimes, even an adult can have problems figuring out when to call 911. Can you imagine how it is to a child? Let’s start with the basics.

  1. Explain what an emergency is, such as the fall above, a fire, maybe even a stranger in the house. Try not to scare them. Talk in a “matter of fact” voice and explain to them that these things do not happen very often and sometimes never!

2. Talk about what each emergency responder does. You can make this a fun thing to do over a period of days. Make it a happy and positive time.

Book by Smart Kids Publishing


Talk about how they are there to help and to not be afraid to go to a police officer when they are scared. If they are ever separated from you, it will be invaluable to your child not to fear them. Sometimes, we have attitudes and can portray that attitude to our children and make them dislike or fear Police Officers. We must take care to never do this, so the child will run to safety!

The National Crime Prevention Council advises to present a police officer to your child as a “safe stranger”. This is an example of a good book to buy to help explain what an Officer does. Police Officers on Patrol by Kersten Hamilton (Author), R.W. Alley (illustrator)


Talk about what they do and what they drive. Fire trucks can be scary or really be exciting. They must understand how to get out of a house and where to go in case of a fire. This will be a part of your family fire safety talk. Set off the fire alarm test sound so the child will know what it sounds like and what to do if it goes off. Explain to them that they must not approach a fire truck without an adult. This is a good book for firemen. Big Frank’s Fire Truck by Leslie McGuire.

Sing the song with the preschooler: use the tune “Frere Jacques” as a fire safety teaching tool.

There’s a fire! There’s a fire!

911 911

Call the fire department! Call the fire department!

911 911

911 Dispatchers

Talk about what a dispatcher is and what they need to tell the dispatcher in an emergency. The child needs to know their name, address and their parent’s name! Remember, a cell phone will now help the dispatcher locate the phone. A home phone is better because it gives the dispatcher the address immediately!

Impatient Pamela by Mary Koski and Dan Brown

Make a song of your address and phone number so the child will think it is fun to sing it! One child was so afraid when he called 911 that he forgot his address until the 911 dispatcher asked him to sing it! Once the child has a good idea of what an emergency is, now it is time to tell them what an emergency is NOT!

Always tell them to ask an adult but remember, if an adult is not around or can’t answer, it is an emergency!! The child needs to know that if they call and it is not an emergency or as a joke, they can get in trouble. You don’t want to discourage them from calling but also that it is not for fun! The book above will help explain when not to call 911.

Practice makes perfect!

It is important to practice calling 911. Repetition is a good learning tool for children. Here is a good way to start.

  1. Use a disconnected home phone to practice call 911. Remember, a cell phone that is not connected to a cell service provider will still call 911 in an emergency! (The dispatcher cannot call back if it is not connected should they lose the call, so this is not a viable option for calling 911)
  2. Practice how to tell the dispatcher who they are and not be afraid. The child must give the dispatcher as much information as they know. Tell them it is ok to answer questions from this “stranger” on the phone when they call 911.
  3. Explain that they must listen to the dispatcher and to do what they are told to do and to never hang up until the dispatcher tells them to.

Here are some questions that they will be asked, so you can practice. What is your name? What is your address? What happened? Who needs help? Is there an adult to help you? Are they breathing? Is the door unlocked for the ambulance?


Put a 911 sign near every phone. In an emergency, they may forget the number. Have other important numbers there, like Grandma, etc. Have Grandma’s picture by it! Remember, the paramedics, police or firemen can use these numbers too! Have a first aid kit and make sure the child knows where it is. Teach the child how to use a cell phone. Is it locked? Do they know the code? Do they know how to hit “send”? Do they know how to access the phone if it is locked in an emergency? If it is a portable home phone, show them how to make a call. Do not put 911 on speed dial! They may accidently call when it is not necessary.

I hope this has helped. As a parent, it is so important to take time to help them learn. If you do your part, you may save their life and yours!