Elementary and preschool-aged children may not be old enough to receive certification in American Red Cross life-saving classes like CPR and First Aid, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t teach them age-appropriate ways to provide care to others and to take responsibility for their own health and safety.
My three-year-old daughter is just now old enough to understand that injury and illness are often preventable and usually treatable. She knows that washing her hands helps her stay healthy and sneezing into her elbow helps her friends stay healthy. She understands that band-aids slow bleeding and ice is used on painful bumps and bruises. She’s certainly no first responder, but she’s a wealth of health and safety knowledge considering she’s only three.
My almost-six-year-old son, Will, takes health and safety education very seriously. He plays “Prepare 4” on the Be Red Cross Ready website whenever I let him use my laptop, and he often “steals” my phone to explore the Red Cross First Aid app. He helped me draft our emergency preparedness kit shopping list, and plans to “handle” shopping for the items on the list next weekend. (He seems to think I’m just going to drop him off at Target with the list and my credit card. Hmm.) He’s also asked me to teach him how to help someone who’s choking and wondered out loud what he should do if someone’s heart stops beating.
Will’s area of expertise when it comes to health and safety is allergies. Poor kid has been a walking allergy since he was nine-months-old, and while he’s thankfully outgrown some of his food allergies, he’s still allergic to peanuts. We started talking to Will about his allergies as soon as he could understand the words coming out of our mouths (maybe even before), and have taught him that while we and the adults in his life will always support and care for him, it’s important he learn to be responsible for his allergies. As a result, Will has been and continues to be an incredible advocate for his own health and safety.
Will attended a peanut-free preschool, but a few weeks ago he started kindergarten at a public elementary school where, though all snacks are peanut-free, kids can bring whatever they’d like in their lunches. Knowing what we were getting into, my goal for this past summer was to prepare Will for this new environment by making sure he understood 1) what anaphylaxis would feel like and 2) how to administer his own epi-pen. While I don’t think Will will ever need to administer his own epi-pen at school (his teachers are trained and his school has a nurse), I want him to take some responsibility for his own health and safety.
Will and I read through and looked at pictures in my CPR and First Aid Handbook until he could recite back to me how anaphylaxis looks and feels, and then we moved on to actually using epi-pens. Will practiced on himself with trainer epi-pens (no needle or medication), and then he practiced on oranges using real (but expired) epi-pens.
I filmed Will’s practice sessions so he could use the video to periodically review how to administer his epi-pen. When he watched the video for the first time, I could see how proud he was of himself for calming responding to an “emergency”. I think he feels safer now that he’s learned so much about his medical condition and knows what to expect in and how to deal with an emergency situation.
My apologies that Will isn’t wearing a shirt. It’s still REALLY hot were we live.
Will’s only five (almost six), but in the last three or so years he has shown me time and time again that he’s not too young to learn about or be helpful when it comes to his own, our family’s, and our community’s health, safety, and emergency preparedness.
I encourage you to check out these great resources and share this information with your kids, the kids in your classroom, and/or the kids in your neighborhood. I promise you, they’re not too young, and starting the ball rolling now will help them become healthier and safer as they grow up.