Children only become knowledgeable about handling crises and problems by being given a chance to practice when there is no crisis. The more you prepare your child for the many what ifs that can come up, the more confident your child will be about knowing what to do should one occur. Of course, no parent can possibly anticipate every crisis. But by going through the following exercises with your child, you will get a sense of how he or she might handle different problems without you.

Here are some typical what-if situations to practice with your child. As you go through the questions and suggested solutions, try to let your child do most of the talking. After you ask the question, let your child give an answer. Then talk about the answer together.

Discussing different scenarios will help you find out more about your child’s problem-solving skills. It will also help your child learn to distinguish between real emergencies when an adult should be contacted and daily crises that can be safely handled without adult help.

What ifs

Try making this exercise fun. You can also make up your own what ifs.

What if the smoke alarm goes off downstairs while you’re upstairs watching TV?

One answer: I should go downstairs immediately, so long as there is no sign of smoke. Then I should call my parent or backup adult who will tell me what to do. If I do smell smoke or see any sign of fire, I should grab my brother/sister/pet and leave the home immediately as we practiced in our fire drills. If I cannot find my pet easily and fast, then I should leave the house immediately without it.


What if your younger sibling cuts his finger? What should you do?

One answer: I should get a bandage right away. Then I should put a clean towel or piece of paper towel on the cut, press it firmly until the bleeding stops, and apply the bandage. I don’t need to call an adult if the bleeding stops right away. But I should call for help if it doesn’t stop.


What if you arrive home alone from school and find the front door or window unlocked or open when it’s not supposed to be. What should you do?

One answer: I shouldn’t go in. Instead, I should go to a nearby neighbor or backup adult for help.


What if you burn your finger making toast? What should you do?

One answer: For a minor burn, the best thing to do is to apply ice or very cold water to the burned area for two or three minutes. Then carefully dry the burn with a clean towel. If the burn still hurts, I should call an adult for help.


What if the doorbell rings and you are afraid to answer it? What can you do?

One answer: I don’t have to answer. I can look out the peephole to see who’s there. If I don’t recognize the person and I’m afraid to answer, I won’t. I won’t ever open the door to a stranger. If the person at the door won’t go away, I’ll call the police.


What if you are doing your homework on the computer and a thunder and lightning storm starts up?

One answer: I should save whatever I was working on, exit out of all programs and shut down the computer. I should also keep the television off during severe storms. If I get scared, I should call my parent or backup adult for reassurance.


What if it’s 6:30 p.m. and mom or dad is an hour late? You’re starting to get scared. What should you do?

One answer: Call my mom or dad at work. If I can’t reach a parent, call my backup adult and explain that I’m home alone and feeling scared.


What if your younger brother or sister swallows something that makes him or her feel sick?

One answer: Call 911 or the Poison Control Center right away. And I should save the container that whatever he swallowed was in.


What if your little sister is playing upstairs and suddenly you hear her scream? You run upstairs and find she’s crying so hard she can’t even talk. You find out she caught her finger in a door and it’s so swollen it looks twice its normal size. What do you do?

One answer: Swelling can be the sign of a bad bruise or a broken bone. I should try to help her calm down and keep her hand still while I call an adult for help.


Written with the help of Mary Beth Klotz, Ph.D. Dr. Klotz is a Nationally Certified School Psychologist (NCSP) and a certified special education teacher and administrator. She has worked for the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) as the Director of IDEA Projects and Technical Assistance for the past six years. Previously, Dr. Klotz taught and worked as a school psychologist for 15 years in a variety of public school settings. 

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