Ask a Pediatrician: 5 Things Every Child Should Know By Age 5
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Five years old! A pivotal age. The start of kindergarten and the end of toddlerhood/preschool and being a “little kid.” With this transition comes much mental and emotional development and also an opportunity for more independence and responsibility. The learning curve is steep at this age, so it’s a perfect time to teach kids a few basic elements of information to ensure their safety. 

Children younger than five can follow instructions when they know something is dangerous, but by age five kids start to grasp the reasons why simple safety rules are in place. This means they can also understand the consequences of defying these rules. It’s an important balance to strike – being direct about the seriousness and gravity around safety without instilling too much fear, as some kids may be prone to anxiety. Just like an adult, kids need to keep their cool so they’re able to think clearly and recall what they are supposed to do in an emergency situation. That’s why it’s critical to go over basic safety rules and information before emergencies arise, delivering the information in a calm manner and using small tricks to help kids understand, remember and apply. 

Here are five key points every five-year-old should know: 

Basic Personal Information 

By age five, children should know the first and last names of their parents or guardians. They should also know their street address and town or city. Lastly, a phone number should fall into the basic personal information category. So, a home phone number or one of their parent's cell phone numbers, which sometimes serves as a home phone number if you do not have a landline in your house. 

One way to teach this is to create a song that puts their phone number and address to a tune. We all learned the alphabet through a song and it stuck with us forever, right?! Using a melody kids already know will help them not only learn but remember the important details. 

What To Do If They Get Lost

Yes, five-year-olds should have an innate sense of stranger danger, however, as parents we should empower them to identify “safe” strangers if they get lost or are in need of help. If a child gets lost or separated from their parent or guardian, they should look for “another mommy or daddy” with a child or children and ask them for help. If they cannot spot one, teach them to look for (without wandering from one spot) a person in a uniform, such as a police officer or a security guard, or someone with a nametag who works at the store (if in a store).

No Answering the Door Without an Adult Present 

Kids five and under LOVE to ring the doorbell when waiting at someone’s door, so it’s only natural that they get excited when they hear the ring at their own home. Explain to your child or children that they can only open the door if a grown-up is with them because there could be a stranger on the other side and there is no way to tell if it is a “safe” stranger or an unsafe one. Going over the “why” behind this rule can help with their comprehension and their ability to remember to put it into practice. 

Simple Chores, But with Boundaries 

When children enter the toddler years they start to assert themselves and show independence. Once they are five, this characteristic becomes even more prominent and you’ll notice they offer to help out with certain things you do more often. It’s great to get your kids involved in chores and give them a “job” so they can feel a sense of pride and accomplishment when completing a task. However, it’s important they know boundaries. 

For instance, a five-year-old can have the “job” of setting the dinner table, but they should be clear that when it comes to handling the knives adults will step in. It’s great to get your children excited about having a “clean up” job before they go to bed each night, but they should know that if a book or toy needs to get put away on a high shelf they should leave that to mom or dad (no bookshelf climbing allowed!). 

To Call 911 in an Emergency 

Children as young as five should know how, and, more importantly, when to call 911. We cannot assume kids know how to pick up a phone, either landline or cell phone, and dial 911 if an emergency arises. The best way to ensure they know what they’re doing is to physically show them how to get access into your cell phone for an emergency call without having to worry about a passcode or Face ID. 

You should also talk through very simple, clear scenarios in which calling 911 would be warranted so that they understand when it is necessary. Use specifics in your examples, such as, “if you’re at grandma’s and she falls and isn’t answering you if you ask if she’s okay, what should you do?” Going over potentially realistic scenarios and getting as specific as possible is the best way to ensure the message sticks in their little brains.

Dr. Christina Johns is a pediatrician + Senior Medical Advisor at PM Pediatrics, the largest pediatric urgent care group in the U.S. 

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