Injury is the leading cause of death for children statewide, and for every one injury leading to death, there are three severe traumas, 10 hospitalizations and 100 emergency room visits. Across all age groups, falls, motorized crashes and poisoning were the leading causes of death in Minnesota between 2000 and 2009, according to the Minnesota Department of Health.
That's why health and safety experts stress the importance of teaching children the skills to avoid and respond to emergency situations.
“The person you’re likely to see injured in front of you is someone you care about,” said Phil Hansen, CEO of the Northern Minnesota Region of the American Red Cross.
Parents, schools and safety organizations should strive to instill in children mindset that’s cautious and aware during emergencies, he said.
“Parents should talk to their kids about safety and preparedness with the same seriousness as their talks about sex or drugs,” said Jason Viana, preparedness and international services manager at the Northern Minnesota Region of the American Red Cross. Parents should promote a “culture of preparedness” at home to equip children with the knowledge and skills necessary to respond to accidents, emergencies and disasters.
From elementary school and onward, experts said children should be taught increasingly sophisticated skillsets as they get older.
In any emergency situation, Hansen says, children should stay calm and not panic, since a cool head leads to safer choices. Kids should also know their name, their parents’ names, their home phone number, home address and parents’ work phone numbers.
Hansen said he found it “amazing” when children didn’t know their own addresses, phone numbers, or in some cases even their parents’ names.
Viana said it was important for parents to teach their children to memorize this basic information, along with holding regular home emergency drills similar to ones carried out in schools. This way children know how to response to emergencies, who to call and where to congregate during a disaster.
Children should know basic first aid, to help themselves and others. Aside from knowing basic CPR, children should follow some important guidelines for helping someone in need.
Erin Petersen, coordinator for family safety programs at the Minnesota Safety Council, laid out some important tips to teach to teach children if someone is badly injured:
• Shout for help. If no one comes, find a nearby adult.
• If the situation warrants it, call 911. Stay on the line until someone answers and give any requested information.
• Follow any instructions given by the 911 operator.
• Don’t get hurt helping someone else. Ensure the area is safe. If the injured person is in a dangerous spot, don’t get too close.
• Except for leaving to get help, stay with the injured person.
• Don’t move the person since this could injure the person more.
• Cover the injured person with you jacket, a blanket, or something else warm if he or she is cold.
• When an adult arrives, follow their instructions.
There were 5,039 residential fires in Minnesota in 2011, according to the State Fire Marshal.
Aside from the common advice to stop, drop and roll to extinguish clothes that catch fire, safety experts said children should also know not to stop to grab belongings during a blaze, or to reenter a burning building for any reason.
Children shouldn’t dial 911 from inside a burning house, but outside of it. While leaving a burning house, safety experts said occupants should crawl on the floor beneath the smoke and flames and avoid touching doors.
Kids often try to run back inside for a pet or if they don’t find their parents outside the burning building, Viana said. To counter this, children should know where a specific family meeting place is during a disaster; re-entering a burning building can be fatal.
In 2012, seven of the 39 reported drowning deaths throughout Minnesota were children aged between one and 13, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
Water safety is a particular area of concern for the American Red Cross due to the “unfortunate number of drowning deaths in the community,” Hansen said.
It’s important to train children not to approach the water by themselves or when out of an adult’s sight. They should swim or wade only where they can be seen and always with someone else. Pushing or jumping on other swimmers is also highly discouraged.
Older children should know not to dive into water of uncertain depth, Viana said.
While in a boat, basic safety protocols like wearing a life jacket and not roughhousing or misbehaving apply.
Hansen underscored the importance of teaching children not to jump in after someone who is drowning, but rather to toss a rope or life preserver or to shout for immediate help. Those who attempt to leap in after a drowning person risk drowning themselves in the course of the rescue.
Seasonal Minnesota emergencies like flooding also present a drowning risk, Hansen added.
When children get lost or are walking by themselves, safety experts said it’s important they know who to trust and where to go.
The Minnesota Safety council suggests that children lost inside a store stay calm and go to the cash register.
If they’re lost outside and separated from friends and family, they should go to an agreed-upon meeting place.
Children should be taught to avoid strangers, with the exception of police officers. If they’re home alone, children should be taught never to answer the door. If they answer the phone, they should never tell the caller their parents aren’t home.
Wild or unfamiliar animals should also be avoided.
Safety skills that children should learn extend beyond fire, water, first aid and weather.
Children playing sports, riding in vehicles and crossing streets should be aware of their surroundings, wear the appropriate protective gear and be cautious and respectful to others, according to safety experts.
Before playing sports, kids should warm up properly, wear the appropriate protective gear, drink plenty of water and apply sunscreen. If they’re injured during the course of play, they should tell an adult immediately.
Motorized crashes are one of the leading causes of injuries among children in Minnesota and nationwide. It’s important for children to always wear a seatbelt during any car trip, to keep their head, hands, arms and feet in the vehicle at all times, and refrain from distracting the driver.
Most kids can’t judge speeds or distances until age 10, according to the Minnesota Safety Council, so younger kids need to cross streets with an adult. It’s also important to cross at corners, using signals and crosswalks while making eye contact with the drivers to ensure they’re seen.
It’s also important to walk across the street instead of running, to remove headphones and look both ways before crossing. Children should know to never run out into the street after a ball, pet or for any other reason.