As our story proves, even very young children have the capability to learn about emergencies and as such will have an awareness of the Emergency Services. My children are always fascinated by ambulances, fire engines and police cars particularly when they are whizzing past with flashing blue lights and their sirens blaring. This is the ideal time to initiate conversations about what the emergency vehicles are for. I used to tell Isabelle and Oliver that the passing ambulance was on the way to help someone who was poorly and needed to go to the hospital very quickly. Or that the fire engine was taking firefighters to put out a fire or perhaps help people that may be stuck in their cars following an accident. Police cars continue to be a source of amusement for me as no matter what example I give them, my son chooses to believe that “they are chasing the baddies”!
Children are never too young to be educated about the significance of emergency calls and that 999 must only ever be used in genuine emergencies. I have given many examples of what constitutes a genuine emergency……and also what does not! A young child’s understanding of an emergency can be a very different to that of an adult’s, although on occasions at work it appears as though people phone 999 for reasons one would never comprehend! I once gave an example of a lady who called 999 so that Police would come to her house to retrieve a bird that was flying in her chimney because it was too noisy! I have also heard reports from colleagues of people phoning Police to attend as there was a spider in the house…… the usual species you occasionally find in a house as oppose to a tarantula! Whilst Isabelle laughed at these examples she appreciated that these are not incidents that you would call the Police for. I also explained that whilst Police help to look for lost or stolen items they would not be impressed at all by a 999 call to report a missing bear.
If you suffer from a medical condition it may be advisable to explain to your child the symptoms you may experience. Clearly not all the symptoms will require emergency medical assistance but those that do could be gently highlighted so that the child will learn when they should call for help if you are in a position where you cannot do this yourself. In my case, when you experience a severe allergic reaction it becomes difficult, eventually impossible to talk when your airways tighten/close. Both my children are aware of my very special medicine (Epi Pen – an auto injector of adrenalin) and where it can be located so that they can bring it to me should the situation ever arise. They also know that this medicine will make them very poorly should they ever use it on themselves. I have taught both children to call for emergency help by using 999 and as such they also know the relevant information the emergency operator may require such as their name, age, address and to tell them that what the emergency is, i.e. Mummy is poorly, she has allergies to nuts and latex. I have also explained other emergencies such as an accident or a fire breaking out within the home and the fact that generally an adult would call for help but on occasion the adult may be injured and need their help one day.
So, what exactly does a child need to know about making that Emergency Call?
Your child needs to know what the number 9 looks like and where it is on the phone. I used an old mobile to make a pretend call on whilst playing Doctors and Nurses with my children. More details about this can be read in ‘The Story So Far Section’. Whilst I used an old phone for teaching this, I have instructed my children to use the land line phone if we are at home. This is because when calls are made from landlines, the Emergency Operator will automatically receive the subscriber information (phone number, name and address details). This is particularly beneficial when the caller is unable to speak as was the situation once in my case, or when the child is very young and may have forgotten the details they are supposed to provide to the Emergency Operator. When we are out, my children know where my mobile can be found and that they must give all the usual information but state where we are or what landmarks we are near to.
It is important that you advise your children to speak slowly, clearly and loudly so that the Emergency Operator can hear all the information. It is also important to tell the child that they must stay on the line until help has arrived and to follow the instructions of the Emergency Operator as they are there to help them.
You might also find it useful to set up a speed dial on your phone. For example by pressing down the no. 3 continuously on my phone, it is set to dial my husband. I have also set up two other favourite numbers that the children are aware of. The children could also phone these numbers in an emergency as they may feel more at ease talking to someone they know. The designated person that has been called could then call for emergency help once they have assessed the situation.
In my case every minute is essential so 999 is the only way forward for my particular medical problem. My daughter has successfully called an ambulance for me. Children are capable of such wonderful things which is why Children’s Safety Education from a young age is crucial. Our motto ‘Expecting Big Things From Little People’ really is true.