Donielle Welti’s children called 911 when she was having a seizure. (Photo: Donielle Welti)
One Saturday morning, Donielle Welti, 40, was hustling to get her three kids—Paris, 8, Steven 6, and Faith, 2 — out the door to soccer practice when her knees buckled.
The teacher from Merrick, New York, felt her muscles give out, and within seconds, she was convulsing on the floor while her terrified kids looked on. The mom was able to speak, but she was immobilized from the spine down. Welti understood what was happening, having been diagnosed with non-epileptic seizures (triggered by stress and sleep deprivation) but her kids didn’t. Two minutes into the terrifying 15-minute episode, her kindergartener sprang into action.
“Steven very calmly said, ‘I’ll call 911,’” Welti tells Yahoo Parenting. “I could hear him in my bedroom telling the operator, ‘My mom can’t get up.’” The child also provided his address and phone number. Meanwhile, Paris, who knew her father’s cell phone number, called him at work.
Fortunately, Welti had taught her children how to respond in emergencies. “I’ve always been a paranoid parent and my children have severe allergies,” she says. Welti would even call 911 and ask the operator for permission to practice with her kids and during car trips, the children practiced memorizing their phone number and address.
Debra Holtzman, J.D., M.A., author of The Safe Baby: a Do-It-Yourself-Guide to Home Safety and Healthy Living, says role-playing is a smart way to teach young kids how to handle stressful situations. “Your goal isn’t to scare them — it’s to educate and empower them.” Holtzman tells Yahoo Parenting. She adds that kids should understand that emergencies (an intruder, a hurt family member) may never occur, but to feel prepared.
It’s also wise to have children practice calling 911 on different types of phones — for example, your cell may have a different ‘talk’ button than your house phone. And parents should save important numbers on speed dial, including emergency contacts such as a grandparent or a trusted friend. Those numbers should also be posted somewhere visible where kids and a babysitter can easily find them.
“You also want to use kids’ language — they may not be able to memorize their entire address yet, but [they might know] their street name and the color of their house,” says Holtzman.
Here are other safety tips kids should learn before the age of 6.
Fires: Holtzman says it’s important for families to develop a fire escape plan (visit the National Fire Protection Association for tips). “Practice fire drills at least two times a year and tell kids to never reenter their house or apartment for a favorite toy or pet,” she says. “Get out, stay out, and designate a location outside the home — a lamppost, tree, or mailbox—where family members should meet.”
Drowning: According to Holtzman, drowning is the second leading cause of death in children age one to 14. She suggests enrolling children as young as kindergarten-age in swimming classes taught by certified instructors. “All children need to be actively supervised in and around water, regardless of their swimming skills.” If your kid is spending the day on a boat or near a lake, wearing a properly fitted life jacket approved by the U.S. Coast Guard is also a must.
Pets: Teach children to enjoy wildlife like birds, snakes, raccoons, foxes or bats from afar. Even domesticated pets should be approached with caution. Kids should always ask the owner of the pet (and their own parent) whether they can approach an animal before petting it.
Traffic: Kids shouldn’t cross the street alone until they’re at least 10, according to Holtzman, although they need to be street smart. “Exit and enter a car on the curbside, away from traffic, and know how to look before crossing — left, right, and left again,” she says.
Crowds: More than 2,000 children get lost on a daily basis, according to the study National Incidence Studies of Missing, Abducted, Runaway, and Thrownaway Children. If kids get separated in public, they should look for an adult with a name tag, such as a security guard, or a police officer or a mother with kids. “Stress that if they get separated from you, you will come find them, and they should stay put,” says Holtzman. “You want to lay the groundwork for these situations without getting scary.”
For Welti, who has since recovered from her seizure, she’s in awe of how well her kids handled the emergency. “What if the situation was worse?” she says. “My kids just took control. All that role playing paid off.”