Few parents could have read the disturbing story of Emilie Decroiux - the young mum who tragically died whilst alone at home with her toddler - and not have wondered 'what would my child have done in the same situation?'
As soon as my son was old enough to communicate, I drummed basic 'what to do in an emergency' info into him – our phone number, house number and postcode. Mummy and Daddy's full names, which neighbour he should go to if Mummy or Daddy fell ill.
And not just for incidents in the home – whilst I didn't want him to see disaster or danger in every situation, I wanted him to always have a contingency plan if something went wrong – what he would do if we became separated in the supermarket, or shopping mall, or if he got disorientated and lost in the park or on the beach.
Thankfully, in almost eight years, he has only ever once wandered off in a shop, and our only 'emergency' at home involved him getting trapped in his own bedroom when the door handle snapped off. But his knowledge in the latter situation – gained from all that drilling – of the emergency services and the different types of 'rescue' and 'help' the fire, police and ambulance services provide - made for an inquisitive, rather than distressed child when the fire brigade turned up and broke through his bedroom to rescue him.
'I know all about what YOU do,' he told the fireman, and promptly reeled off all the reasons you might ask for the fire brigade if you dialled 999 (I don't know how impressed they were with the cat-stuck-up-a-tree bit).
We taught him phone skills from around two, using a toy telephone and familiarising him with our phone number and nanny and grandad's by reciting them in a sing-song style (six years on, he still sings our home number rather than just saying it!)
Mum of two, Catherine agrees that phone skills are important, even for the youngest children to master:
'I taught my son how to use the phone about a year ago so he would have been six or seven. My husband was doing work on the house, and I taught him in case his dad fell off the roof or anything happened whilst I was out. We have a list of friends' numbers they could call on stuck to the fridge and I have made them both learn my mobile number in case they ever get lost.'
Mum of three, Camilla, has also taught her children basic telephone skills, and made 'escape' routes in the house in the case of an emergency:
'Gabriel, who is three, is very in to Fireman Sam at the moment, and knows to shout 'Fire! Fire!' very loudly and to come and get Mummy or Daddy in case of fire. Better that than hiding. And they all know to come into my room as it's the easiest room to jump out of and has the phone.'
Camilla also puts her business card in her children pockets when they are out, so she can be contacted immediately should they become separated.
'They think it's way cooler than having a sticker with names and phone numbers stuck to them when at a theme park, for example,' she says.
Former retail worker Anne has good advice for parents teaching their children what to do if they do get separated when out: 'Teach your children your names. We often got kids who'd been taught to explain they were lost but couldn't tell us what mum or dad's name was. These days it's policy in most shops to only page parents if you have the parent or carer's name, or any weirdo could show up. Without a name, all security can do is walk round trying to find the parents. Not easy. So it's worth making sure that if asked for a parent's name, your kids won't just say you're called Mummy.'
Childminder and mum blogger (www.housewifeconfidential.co.uk) Kat Molesworth agrees that children should have basic safety and emergency info drilled into them from a young age. She makes teaching it a fun part of her day to day activities with the children she looks after.
'Just as I would teach a child the rules of road safety or fire drills I think it is important to teach children what to do in a medical emergency,' she says, 'As a childminder, one of the emergency drills I practice with children is what they would do if I had an accident. We rehearse it as we would a fire drill and I pretend to fall down – I should add that this is probably about two to three times a year not every week!'
Kat has an age-appropriate 'training programme' in place for her charges: 'From around the age of two when children understand sequence and instructions I teach them to go to the window and attract attention by shouting help if I fall down/asleep and don't wake up. From around three I teach them how to make an emergency call using either the home phone or mobile. I teach them that when the person answers they say 'Mama has fallen down and can't wake up' and to answer the questions they are asked.'
Kat adds more detail to the plan as the children get older, but emphasises that it's the 'get help' instruction that is the most important thing for the child to take on board.
Dad-of-two, Nick Coffer, took a cautious approach to instructing two-year-old son Archie in what to do if there was a problem or incident at home. He says: 'Obviously we don't want to be paranoid about this kind of thing happening as it is so incredibly rare, nor do we want to worry Archie overly, but we have made sure that he knows how to get out of the front door (it involves getting a stool!) and we have also ensured he knows we have kindly neighbours in our little close if he needs to find help. He has also become pretty adept at using our home phone by just pressing redial and seeing what happens. This is no bad thing and I feel pretty sure that in a nightmare scenario, he would somehow have the wherewithal/reflex reaction to make a random call. Of course, I could be wrong and as he gets older, I think we probably will teach him how to make an emergency call. We certainly are not parents who worry unduly but it seems common sense to subtly ensure that Archie knows he has options in a worst case scenario.'
Kat's Top Tips:
Make sure your mobile phone is registered to your address so emergency services can dispatch if a child dials but doesn't talk.
I only teach children to leave the house if there is a fire, smoke or a strange smell and I don't get up. They are then to follow our fire plan, take a phone and go to a neighbour for help.
Use simple terms to explain what an emergency is: if Mama falls down and can't get up or Mama is sleeping and won't wake up, they should call for help.
Overall, the key message to get across: Try to wake/talk to the person – call for help from an adult – if no one answers, use the phone to dial 999.
What do you think?
What have you drilled into your children and at what age about emergencies?
What are your top tips?
Three-year-old dials 99 to report drunk babysitter