My Family’s 9-1-1 Plan {Which I Hope We Never Have To Use}

Frankly, I was at the end of my rope.

My husband had been out of town on business for three days. In that time, I’d had to shovel the driveway and sidewalk countless times, rearrange my work schedule for two separate 2-hour delays, and because of the cold temperatures my children had been inside for numerous days in a row and were expertly picking fights and taking the bait with each other.

The kids were supposed to be getting ready for bed, but my son was playing Legos and my oldest daughter was trying to talk me into letting her sleep with me for the night. I walked down the hallway and saw the two year old in the bathroom squirting toothpaste all over the sink and just getting ready to drink her brother’s mouthwash.

“No!” I yelled down the hallway to no one in particular, since no one was doing what they were supposed to be doing. “Stop!” I yelled, and snatched the mouthwash out of the two-year-old’s hand.  She got that look on her face and I could tell a royal temper tantrum was about to ensue. She took the first big breath to fill her lungs with air, and I waited for the first scream.

Instead, there was silence.

I blew on her face (a trick I had read somewhere about getting kids to breath when they hold their breath). But, then her foot began to slide off of the toilet she had precariously balanced herself on, and I realized she was going to faint.

“Alice!” I said, blowing on her face. “Alice! Alice! Alice!” By now I had carried her into the hallway and laid her limp body on the floor. The two older kids had come out of their rooms.  “Mommy?” my daughter said.

By now, Alice was blue, silent, and her eyes rolled to the back of her head. “Get my phone!” I screamed. “My phone!”

The two older kids were frozen staring at their sister. I knelt by her, too afraid to leave her, but afraid she wouldn’t wake up. Finally, after what felt like minutes but I’m sure were only seconds, I stood up and ran to get my phone sitting on the kitchen counter. I knelt back down by Alice and dialed 9-1-1. Nothing happened. I looked at the screen. 9-1-1 was clearly displayed but nothing was happening. Then I realized I hadn’t pressed “call.”  Just as I was getting ready to press the call button, Alice let out the huge scream I had been anticipating minutes before.

With her cry, her brother, sister, and I began crying too. I picked up Alice and hugged her, noticing the beads of cold sweat that had formed across her forehead.

“I was scared,”  said my son. 

“Me too,” I replied as I put my arm around my son and oldest daughter.  “I was really, really scared.”

Then I said, “Do you know who I was trying to call?”

“Yeah,” the big kids replied.  “Dad.”

“No, I was trying to call 9-1-1, because I didn’t know how to help Alice. But I forgot to press the send button. Do you know what a send button is?”

Our family 911 phone plan

I walked my kids into my bedroom.  Last year, my husband and I decided to keep a “9-1-1 phone” in the house at all times. We don’t have a landline. Both of our cell phones are password-protected, and I leave mine in random places all over the house (or sometimes even my car). We decided we needed a 9-1-1 phone so our kids or a babysitter could call 9-1-1 if something would ever happen. We’d talked about it many times. The kids even knew where the 9-1-1 phone was.

But during this terrifying trial run, I realized having the phone and letting the kids know where it was just wasn’t enough.

That night the kids practiced opening the flip phone. They each practiced dialing 9-1-1 and we talked about pressing the green button after dialing. My plan is to practice with the kids on a monthly basis until I’m convinced they could dial 9-1-1 if they ever needed to. They also have a short script to read to the 9-1-1 operator. I hope you’ll talk with your young children about your 9-1-1 plan, too. Any old cell phone can be used as a 9-1-1 phone.  As long as the phone has a charged battery, it can be used to dial 9-1-1.

My older kids were scared to go to bed that night, and the 9-1-1 phone talk brought up some other scary things. (At one point during that evening’s conversation my son said to me, “This is what we would do if something happened to you and Daddy wasn’t home, right?”) But mostly they were afraid Alice would hold her breath again while she was sleeping and not wake up.  In an attempt to ease their fears, I got out the doctor book of childhood illness. We read the section about children holding their breath. When we got to the end of the section, I read them the part titled “Prevention.” It said:

Try not to overreact yourself, since this tends to reinforce tantrum breath-holding behavior.

I looked at my two big kids and laughed. Then my oldest daughter said, “I guess we need practice with that too, huh, Mom?”

P.S. I still didn’t sleep that night.

P.P.S. I know some toddlers hold their breath when they get mad.  My sister even used to hold her breath when she was Alice’s age. All I can say is it was a completely different experience when it was my child going limp in my arms while her eyes rolled to the back of her head.

{NOTE}: Did you know that you can use your older, disconnected cell phones to call 9-1-1? 

They don’t need to be connected to a cell phone plan; they just need to be charged.  So pull that unused phone out of the drawer, keep it charged and easy to find, and teach your child how to dial 9-1-1 in case of an emergency!



Kate lives in Iowa City with her husband (Matt) and three kids, ages 7, 5, and 2. She works at the Belin-Blank Center for Gifted Education and Talent Development at the University of Iowa. She earned her PhD in Curriculum and Supervision in 2012. Prior to working at the University, she taught high school mathematics at many public schools in Iowa. Kate has also coached junior high and high school cheerleading squads for 10 years. Kate has a personal blog . . . stop by and relive your junior high and high school mathematics classes! (without the anxiety or the homework :) )


  1. Thank you so much for posting this! Our oldest daughter used to be a breath holder – she’d just get so worked up that she’d stop breathing. The first few times it was horrifying. We didn’t know what was happening, or why. We got used to it though and learned ways to bring her out of it before she actually fainted, and luckily, we’ve not had an episode in well over a year.

    I’ve been wrestling with the idea of how to do a 9-1-1 plan since we don’t currently have a landline, and both our phones are password protected as well. Our oldest is about to be 4, and our youngest is 2. I think it’s about time we did.

  2. We have a landline still, but the ability for kids to easily call 911 is one reason we are apprehensive about nixing it. Scary stuff!


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