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Do Your Children Know How to Respond in an Emergency? Do You?

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As a parent of four amazing children, scrapes, bruises, cuts, and sometimes even small burns are a regular part of our daily life. This is especially so in warmer months when the constant Northwest drizzle dissolves into daytime bike riding, neighborhood games of baseball, and late nights of kick the can and hide-and-seek. Given the opportunities for injury, it seems like there is always something putting my children at risk of minor injuries.

My 2-year-old has learned to apply Band-Aids. We used to store them in a cupboard beneath the sink in our master bathroom. Her little mind, bless her heart, was able to understand when one might use a Band-Aid, but didn’t quite grasp the concept of knowing when it might be the best solution for a given problem. For example, she once applied a Band-Aid to cover up the purple marker marks on her hand—remnants of my older daughter leaving her markers on the table after finishing her homework assignment. Seeing the ink stains on her hands, my youngest daughter knew something wasn’t quite right, and knew that Band-Aids were supposed to “make it all better”. But that knowledge was about where the medical understanding stopped and the medical waste began. After all, if one Band-Aid is good, ten must be better.

Though, for my 2-year-old, the proper and appropriate application of a Band-Aid may be a concept too deep to understand, there are many basic medical principles that children can not only understand and master, but that can be used to save their lives—or yours.

I can say, without reservation, that the single most important first aid that children, young and old alike, can learn is to call 911, or to otherwise call for help from a responsible adult. Stories abound of young children calling 911 to save their parents’ lives after a medical emergency or an otherwise traumatic event. While these stories are news-worthy and often times heartwarming, they’re not miraculous. A miracle is something that cannot be explained rationally. These stories can be explained. They’re the product of an earlier moment of instruction where a parent, or other grown-up, taught a child to call 911—before knowing that it was going to save someone’s life. As with all first aid treatment, it is necessary for one to already have the training before the need to use it is required.

So what first aid can we teach our children? What can we expect them to be able to do in the event of an emergency? How can they be expected to respond to a non-emergency medical event?

For Cub Scouts (Boy Scout’s younger cousin), in order to complete the First Responder Adventure a Webelos-age boy (10-11 years old) must be able to:

1. Explain what first aid is. Tell what you should do after an accident.

2.Show what to do for the hurry cases of first aid:

a. Serious bleeding

b. Heart attack or sudden cardiac arrest

c. Stopped breathing

d. Stroke

e. Poisoning

3. Show how to help a choking victim.

4. Show how to treat for shock.

5. Demonstrate that you know how to treat the following:

a. Cuts and scratches

b. Burns and scalds

c. Sunburn

d. Blisters on the hand and foot

e. Tick bites

f. Bites and stings of other insects

g. Venomous snakebite

h. Nosebleed

i. Frostbite

6. Put together a simple home first-aid kit. Explain what you included and how to use each item correctly.

7. Create and practice an emergency readiness plan for your home or den meeting place.

8. Visit with a first responder.

Using my children as a guide, I’m pretty sure these principles would be understood by my 5-year old, but probably not by my Band-Aid abusing 2-year old. They would most definitely be understood by my older two children, ages 8 and 10.

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Even though the “Adventure” is geared toward a Cub Scout “den”, the Activities Section (starting on page 7) provides a mostly-applicable template that could be used for teaching these same skills in one’s home to children of any age. For example, the Activity to help teach what to do in the event of a tick bite reads as follows:

Tick bites

Show a picture of a tick. Use a small seed to represent a tick. (A popcorn kernel or pumpkin seed colored dark brown with a marker would work well.) Show how to firmly grip the “tick” with a pair of tweezers—without crushing the tick—when removing the tick from the victim.

CHECK – See if a tick is attached.

CALL – There is no need to seek professional help unless the tick is a deer tick—a very tiny tick, about the size of a sesame seed. Deer ticks can harbor diseases such as Lyme disease.

CARE – With tweezers, gently grip the tick and slowly pull it away from the skin. Do not twist or turn the tick, as its mouth parts may break off and cause an infection. Wash with soap and water and watch site for signs of infection (swelling or redness). Lyme disease leaves a characteristic “ring” around the bite site and requires medical review.

The Activities in this section are relatively straight forward and elementary such that even those adults with little or no medical training can understand, and even teach, the principles to their children. In that regard, I was deliberate in my use of “Tick bites” as the example above, as I assumed many reading this may not be familiar with the appropriate first aid to treat a tick bite. Proper treatment is as simple as knowing what to do and doing it. The same principle applies to our children.

If we stop and reflect on things we may take for granted, we’d be amazed by what our children do not know. Perhaps we just assume our children know what to do if their clothes catch on fire—STOP, DROP, and ROLL. Right? We all learned it when we were younger. I imagine most of us think our children could call 911 if there was an emergency. Do they know the password to our cell phones? Would they be able to call 911 even if they knew they needed to? As much as we may sometimes over-estimate the things our children are capable of, I am still amazed every day by what my children know. They are, without exception, bright, willing, and able learners who would welcome the opportunity to spend time with their parents, even if it meant pretending to have a tick bite.

We cannot expect our young children to “just know” what to do in an emergency—these types of skills are not ones which human beings are born; they are not instinctual. My 2-year old is a prime example of this fallacy. If we don’t teach our children what to do in a given situation, it may be years before they learn these skills from another responsible adult—or worse, from Saturday morning cartoons.

We’ll never know when first aid will be required of them, or how critical it will be that they possess the knowledge, skills, and abilities necessary to respond to a given emergency. The only way to ensure they possess those skills is to teach them ourselves.

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About Author

Scott Edwards is a resident of Ridgefield and a partner at the Vancouver law firm of Schauermann Thayer Jacobs Staples & Edwards PS. His practice focuses exclusively on representing persons injured by the carelessness of others. In addition to his work with Vancouver Family Magazine, he has authored a safety blog entitled "Make Safe" where he has written about topics aimed at making our communities safer.

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