Empower kids in an emergency

David Hession crosses his arms in front of a group of 23 squirmy sixth-graders at Chicago’s Mark T. Skinner School and waits for the answer to his question: “When you call 911, what are some things they’re going to ask you?”

Hession, an instructor with the American Red Cross of Greater Chicago, was invited to the school to deliver a brief follow-up first aid class for the school’s sixth-graders. For 40 minutes, Hession reviews the “three C’s” of emergency treatment (Check, Call and Care), how to use the five senses to detect an emergency and how to check if a person is unconscious.

Preventable injuries among kids are all too common, but even the youngest family members can be taught to respond effectively to emergency situations, says Donna Giove, an instructor with the Red Cross.

“We can really go a long way in reducing that risk by teaching kids how to take care of themselves if they are hurt and so they don’t make it worse,” Giove says. “We can teach kids at an early age to become more proactive instead of reactive.”

Learn according to age

The American Red Cross of Greater Chicago offers a variety of first aid and safety classes for kids, ranging from water safety to CPR. In general, the younger the children, the more time devoted to 911 preparedness and how to recognize an emergency.

First aid classes for children are activity oriented and focus on actually doing the skills, Giove says.

For instance, in the popular Basic Aid Training classes for 7- to 11-year-olds, students pretend to call 911 and the instructor acts as the dispatcher. Relay races and games also help them learn how to respond to choking, bleeding, burns, poisoning and other emergencies. The Scrubby Bear class teaches 4- to 7-year-olds about personal hygiene, germs and how to properly wash their hands. First Aid for Children Today for 5- to 8-year-olds teaches kids injury prevention, how to respond to injuries to themselves and others and how to make healthy choices.

Help at home

Parents can teach their kids how to deal with some emergency situations at home, even without a class, Giove says. Important skills to emphasize include where the first aid supplies are kept, where emergency phone numbers are listed and how to use Band-Aids and antiseptic cream, Giove says.

Dialing 911 isn’t a problem; knowing what to say when on the phone with the dispatcher is. Parents can teach their kids to be articulate on the phone by making sure they know their family members’ names, home address and home and work phone numbers, Giove says.

“At the very least (parents should) take a basic first aid class,” Giove says. “It would give them a lot of good information and it would help them see the best way to prepare their kids. And the best way to teach is by learning themselves.”

Where to look

The six Chicago area Red Cross chapters each offer a variety of programming for kids. To find classes and to see what is offered in their area, parents can call their local Red Cross chapter or go online at www.chicago


The Chicago Fire Department also offers first aid and fire safety classes, says Chief Joseph Roccasalva, coordinator of public information at the Chicago Fire Department. Parents can call the Public Education Unit at (312) 747-6691 to schedule a class for their group or organization.

Age-appropriate first aid training for kids can go a long way in creating an empowered, safety-conscious group of adults, Giove says.

“If you start with them young enough and get that excitement building, they’ll just succeed,” she says. “They feel so good about the idea that they can help somebody else, and you’ve empowered them so that they want to keep going and do as much as they can.”

Vinika Porwal is a former Chicago Parent intern and senior at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism.

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