This is one of those things that I hope never happens however I realized yesterday that I need to teach or tell my 5 and a half year old what to do in case of an emergency at home.

Whilst playing cards laying down on the carpet, I feigned unconsciousness, and asked her what she would do. She got rather distressed, and said "don't do that Mummy, just do that when Daddy is here too" which in turn has prompted me to think about this issue more carefully.

How would you teach them not to panic and remain calm ?

Edit: I should pin point the my concern more precisely, she cannot seem to be able to deal with the notion of something happening at home with only a single parent present. This is what has surprised me. They have fire and earthquake drills at school, so she is well aware of what to do in an emergency of that kind. I have tried explaining that we can devise a drill together but this makes her tearful and anxious.

asked 02 Mar '10, 09:03

Emi's gravatar image

accept rate: 19%

edited 02 Mar '10, 14:18

How would you teach them not to panic and remain calm?

Well, firstly your kids will learn from you, so if they see you in a stressful situation, and you're obviously not calm, they will learn that behavior. So make sure that you have trained yourself to act appropriately in such situations.

Secondly, Scott is right on the money - the reason people panic is because they don't know what to do and how to act. By drilling the appropriate steps for about 10-20 very different situations, then the panic doesn't set in for most problems. Instead they understand the issue, and apply one of their pre-determined 'cheat sheets' for how to act, based on the drills.

I have tried explaining that we can devise a drill together but this makes her tearful and anxious.

You might try taking her 'out of the situation' then, since it seems like it may be an emotional block.

Since she's specifically worried about situations where no adults are around to help, put those off for awhile. Talk about situations where there is an adult, and teach her what the adult would do once she told them of the situation. In this case, rather than teaching her what an adult would really do, tell and demonstrate to her what you want her to do - which shouldn't be that different from an adult, but, for instance, she shouldn't be trying to put fires out herself, so while an adult might try a blanket, fire extinguisher, or some other method before calling 911, teach her that the adult would call 911.

Once she is in such a situation, even if there's no adult available, she will likely do what you taught her would be done by someone else. Some other things that work for others:

  • Use dolls and a dollhouse. "Uh-oh, mommy doll looks sick. What should the little girl doll do?"
  • Reverse the rolls - tell her to pretend to be hurt, and you get to be her. Do what you want her to do, and then see if she'll feel more comfortable switching back to the correct roll.
  • There are books with stories about such situations, meant to teach children what to do. Ask your librarian, or call your firehouse for recommendations - "It's Time to Call 911" is one book I came across recently (haven't read, so can't recommend, but there are many others).
  • Take a trip to the firehouse, and have them explain what they do, and how people - even children - can get them to come help.
    • Have them talk in very basic terms about what problems they can help with (including the fun ones, such as cats in trees, etc - don't focus on death and destruction!).
    • Do the same for your local police office, and see if an ambulance service might be available for tours of their vehicles.
    • In each case, have them explain to her what will happen to her - make sure she's not worried that she'll be left home alone, and what it feels like to ride in a police car or ambulance.
  • Pretend to call 911 with her - here are some great tips on training children how to call 911
    • One of the recommendations there seems to address your situation, "I think it's a good idea for songs not to include medical emergencies or intruders. Fires don't carry the same sense of dread that comes with mom not waking up or some faceless stranger in the house."
  • Visit your neighbors, and have her ask them what they think she should do in an emergency, so she feels a sense of community with those that are only seconds away.

But I think the key is to help her understand that even when she's alone, there's always someone that can help. She may merely need to overcome her sense of vulnerability.

You also need to be sensitive to her age and ability. It could very well be that she's simply not ready for more than, "If you're ever unsure, call 911" or "Press this speed dial and it'll call daddy's cell phone." As she gets older you can incorporate more assessment and action into her drills, but remember that she may simply not be ready for figuring out if you're breathing - all she should worry about right now is that if you're lying down and she can't wake you up, then she should call for help. If needed, couch it in terms of stories she already knows - you are asleep like sleeping beauty, and need prince nine one one to waken you.

Don't spend a lot of time having her assess the situation, nor spend much time talking about life-threatening problems. She doesn't need to wonder if you can breathe - she simply needs to try to wake you up or get your attention, and if she can't to go get help.


answered 02 Mar '10, 14:44

Adam%20Davis's gravatar image

Adam Davis
accept rate: 31%

edited 02 Mar '10, 18:58


+1 Great advice Adam, thank you. I think I can comfortably say that we are a "calm and low stress" family unit, (we only have the one child) and come to think of it yes, she generally mimics our behavior as you say, but in this instance I cannot get past the anxiousness long enough to discuss it with her.

(02 Mar '10, 14:59) Emi

@Emi - I re-read your question, and think I understand the situation a little better. Here's a few more thoughts...

(02 Mar '10, 18:48) Adam Davis

Thanks Adam, we made some progress with the role playing, and we plan to visit our neighbours too!

(03 Mar '10, 16:20) Emi

+1 for stay calm

(17 Jul '11, 03:51) K D

In my experience, the only way to get someone to react a certain way automatically in an emergency is through "drill" (i.e. practice). I would suggest:

  1. Make sure they know the practice is coming. Nothing should be a surprise.
  2. Make sure they know what they're supposed to do ahead of time (i.e. pick up the phone and pretend to dial 9-1-1/equivalent in your country, or Daddy's cell, or a neighbour).
  3. Praise when done correctly.

I think you're on the right path. :)


answered 02 Mar '10, 09:44

Scott's gravatar image

Scott ♦♦
accept rate: 10%

edited 02 Mar '10, 23:04

Tammy's gravatar image

Tammy ♦♦

+1 Thanks for the vote of confidence Scott, and nice answer, but I edited my question after realizing that I hadn't made enough emphasis on the "Teaching them not to panic and remain calm" bit.

(02 Mar '10, 14:20) Emi

I think the drill aspect will help with remaining calm, or at least calm enough.

(02 Mar '10, 14:38) Rich Seller

If she's that uncomfortabe with this kind of role-playing when Daddy isn't there, I'd do it when he's there but pretending not to be, if you get what I mean. He'll be there, he can coach her with what she has to do, but she has to carry out the steps herself. (Or you can coach her, depending on who's pretending to be incapacitated.)

I've also unhooked the phone and gotten my sons to dial 911, and role-play the conversation they'd have with the 911 operator. (When they were a lot younger.)

And, in a true emergency involving someone you love, everybody panics. The trick is having what to do so ingrained that you do it through your panic. I was 34 years old when my sister had a cerebral aneurysm sitting beside me while we were watching TV and I panicked, calling 911 and performing CPR were things I did through and inspite of my panic, because they were second nature.


answered 02 Mar '10, 17:09

Neen's gravatar image

accept rate: 30%

edited 02 Mar '10, 20:34

We are presently living through the earthquake emergencey scenerio (have had a 7.1 and two 6.3 and thousands of others in the past ten months, yes we live in christchurch NZ). Our five year old when we have an earthquake will imedidiately act like a turtle as they are taught and starts singing a song that he was been taught at school. Our three year old will panic.

I would agree with the majority outlines above.

From my personal experience some tips are:

  • teach the same routine that they do at school/preschool.
  • Role playing is great and songs if possible. At our daughters Kindy one of the favourite songs is all about act like a turtle in an earthquake.
  • Don't push it if they get upset. Our three year old panics in earthquake so we are really careful about what we say around her about earthquakes.
  • We spend lots of time stressing that people are around to look after them and our house is safe.
  • I know you are talking about emergency at home but we also have talked about what will happen if there is an earthquake when the kids are at school/Kindergarten and the teachers will look after them until mum or dad comes.

P.S Missed this when first asked back in March.


answered 17 Jul '11, 03:56

K%20D's gravatar image

accept rate: 13%

edited 17 Jul '11, 16:10

Great tips made K D, and yes Earthquakes are at the back of my mind too.

(03 Oct '11, 15:32) Emi

I can not speak from experience, but here is what I would find a logical approach:

  • Talk to your child about it, make connections to school drills. Explain that some things can happen even when you are just home alone together.
  • devise an emergency plan, e.g. call the father, if unreachable call 911/emergency services
  • start with "emergencies" that are announced beforehand (as Scott said), perhaps try them as "Role Play" where your child can play unconscious too and learn from what you are doing?
  • think of some scenarios that can realistically happen (falling down stairs, collapsing because of circulation fail)
  • contact your local red cross organization, where I live they have youth organisations and perhaps can offer leaflets that may help you

I'm just guessing here, I don't know how advanced children are at this age :)


answered 02 Mar '10, 15:01

brandstaetter's gravatar image

accept rate: 24%

+1 will definitely give the role playing a go. !

(02 Mar '10, 16:22) Emi

We made some progress with the role playing today !!! I am truly sorry that I can only accept one answer :( You certainly guess very well.

(03 Mar '10, 16:19) Emi

I'm very happy that it works for you :D

(04 Mar '10, 06:39) brandstaetter
Your answer
toggle preview

Follow this question

By Email:

Once you sign in you will be able to subscribe for any updates here



Answers and Comments

Markdown Basics

  • *italic* or _italic_
  • **bold** or __bold__
  • link:[text](http://url.com/ "Title")
  • image?![alt text](/path/img.jpg "Title")
  • numbered list: 1. Foo 2. Bar
  • to add a line break simply add two spaces to where you would like the new line to be.
  • basic HTML tags are also supported



Asked: 02 Mar '10, 09:03

Seen: 6,715 times

Last updated: 03 Oct '11, 15:32