There’s one thing that your child’s school paperwork, sports applications and field trip permission slips all have in common: They ask for emergency contact information. And chances are that sometime during your son or daughter’s childhood, you’ll need to rely on someone to pick him or her up from a practice – or administer last-minute care. Consider a few factors to help you select contacts that everyone feels safe and secure about.
1. Weigh options. A grandparent or a particular friend might be an obvious choice, but it may be more practical to choose someone who lives closer. Consider your child’s comfort with the person, their accessibility and ability to provide the level of care you expect. Also, think about situations. Can they access your house to retrieve items for your child? Do they know your child’s routine – and have the ability to provide overnight care, if needed?
2. Establish a code word. We drill kids about not talking to strangers, but do they know who you consider a "safe person‚" in case of an emergency? A simple code word, like "rainbow" or "bologna," that your child will recognize and remember gives everyone security. If you must ask a neighbor to pick your child up unexpectedly from school, telling your neighbor the code word lets your child know it’s truly safe.
3. Don’t assume. There may be someone you trust with your kids – but that person might not want the responsibility. Lifestyles, career and family may all be factors. Ask the person prior to listing them to avoid an uncomfortable situation for everyone. Also, discuss whether he or she is your contact in all circumstances, or if it’s limited to school, dance classes or sports practices.
4. Clue in the kids. It can be frightening for a child to be picked up by a neighbor if he or she is expecting you to be there. Letting your kids know who’s designated lessens the element of surprise and reduces stress.
5. Have a second choice. Don’t be afraid or embarrassed to re-evaluate your decision. If you’ve asked your neighbor and two months later she accepts a job that limits her accessibility, it’s perfectly acceptable to choose another person. Changing your mind is not a reflection of your faith in your friend.
6. Convey expectations. Trusting your neighbor with your children means he or she needs to know if your kids have any allergies or special needs. If a child is afraid of dogs, allergic to cats or has asthma, your contact should know in advance in order to provide a safe and comfortable environment.
7. Define an emergency. Children often view emergencies as catastrophic situations. Explain that an emergency contact is a precaution to cover events such as mom or dad being stuck in traffic or working late, to eliminate some of your child’s confusion and concern. Understanding that unique situations arise unexpectedly puts kids at ease in the event of a change in routine.
8. Update your own information. Make sure that your contacts know how to reach both you and your co-parent. Let them know if you change cell numbers or switch departments at work. In the event of an emergency, being able to reach either you or your co-parent reassures your child and maintains clear communication between all parties.
9. Ask for your co-parent’s input. Asking the parents of your child’s best friend to be an emergency contact may seem like a natural choice for you; however, your co-parent may have another option. Discussing the subject takes some of the pressure off you and lets you co-parent know who might be caring for your child.
10. Have a backup. In the event you, the school, the soccer coach or the Scout leader attempts to reach an emergency contact who’s on vacation or away on a business trip, having an alternative already selected eases concern. If you’re detained or late picking a child up, having options soothes angst and guilt.