Granny to the Rescue

Chris Hurley takes up the Red Cross Challenge with a  course in first aid for babies and children

My grand-daughter, Maia, who has just started walking or, more accurately, running, is an accident waiting to happen.  And, baby-sitting over the past couple of months, has involved enough mishaps to make me appreciate the huge responsibility of being granny-in-charge.

An afternoon in the garden nearly turned into a nightmare when I caught her putting a juicy slug into her mouth.  Although she didn’t actually swallow the poor creature, I suspect she gave it a fairly enthusiastic suck.  Immediately I panicked. “What if the slug had been feasting on the pellets that I sprinkle so liberally around the bedding plants?” and more importantly, “What the hell should I do about it?”

Some weeks later, just as I was beginning to recover from the slug incident, my anxiety levels shot up again as she performed a backwards somersault downstairs.  Again I panicked, before scooping her into my arms, trying to quieten her screams. Probably not the thing to do at all.  Once more, I thanked my lucky stars that she was ok but I was becoming painfully aware that when it came to dealing with such domestic emergencies I was clueless

Prevention is obviously better than cure, but no matter how protective granny is, a toddler will discover danger in the nano-second she looks the other way.

There is a quote from a Buddhist proverb that says “When the student is ready the teacher will appear” and so it was that the Red Cross launched it’s very timely campaign called the First Aid Challenge, designed to encourage parents, grandparents and carers to learn first aid skills for babies and children.

A recent study* identified that the main incidents that parents dread are their child or baby choking, becoming unconscious or showing signs of meningitis. Despite this, many parents don’t know how to deal with any of these events and struggle to find the time to learn. There might be a first aid manual in the cupboard but it seems that not many of us get around to reading it.

The Red Cross has recognised the problem and is addressing it with a comprehensive website that is packed full of information and, with its First Aid Challenge campaign, is promoting a programme of nationwide courses on First Aid for Babies and Children.  There are daytime courses (£50) or tuition can be spread over a couple of evenings (£60). 

I had no problem locating a course near me and when I pitched up at the Red Cross Headquarters in Croydon, there was an interesting mix of participants including one other granny, a football coach. a youth leader and a few mums of toddlers and newborns.

At first we were a pretty silent bunch but Tony, our trainer, soon got us interacting and chatting with each other.  Just as well as, it wasn’t long before we were laying on the floor together, taking it in turns to practise life-saving skills and putting each other in the recovery position. However, I think it was with some relief that we were given dolls and dummies on which to practise mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.

It was reassuring to be told by Tony that most people’s first reaction to an emergency is to panic.  This is not good as panic makes you freeze, which is not helpful, and he advised taking a few deep breaths before assessing the situation.

Apart from keeping a cool head, the number one priority in first aid is ‘breathing’ and the first part of the course focused on determining whether a child is breathing, demonstrating how to clear the airways and, once breathing is established, how to put the patient in the recovery position.

Dealing with the potential nightmare of a non-breathing child involved rescue breaths and CPR and for this we got plenty of hands-on (and mouth-on) experience with some very flexible and non-complaining dolls and plastic torsos.  I wonder how many people know, as I now do, that CPR on a baby is carried out with two light fingers?

Just talking about unconscious children was making my heart race and it didn’t get any better when we moved on to children choking on foreign objects.  Stuffing odd things in her mouth is Maia’s speciality and only last week I had wrestled the top of the radiator control from her bulging cheeks.

 For this Tony had us all slapping the dolls on the back, harder than I would have thought a baby could stand. And then it was onto what was once known as the Heimlich manoeuvre but have been called stomach compressions since Henry Heimlich started to request royalties for the use of his name.  Again, with fragile babies in mind, we were taught a special technique to avoid crushing their chests and a more robust procedure for toddlers and children.

The second part of the course covered how to tackle all sorts of emergencies including drowning, bleeding, burns, electric shock, head injuries and sprains.  Apart from accidents, Tony also talked us through the symptoms and consequences of high temperatures, severe allergic reactions and seizures and how to treat them.  And then the perennial favourite, where identifying the symptoms can be the difference between life and death – Meningitis.  Last and, for me, definitely not least there was a session action to take for the ingestion of poisonous substances.

The training, covering five hours, was thorough and interactive and provided us with lots of practical exercises and demonstrations.  There was audience participation at every stage and absolutely no chance of dropping off to sleep.

At the end of the day I felt armed with enough information to deal with most emergencies involving children.  However, it was a lot to take in and I felt I would need a bit more revision to boost my confidence and to put all these new found skills into practice.

Fortunately the Red Cross has taken this into account and everything we were taught is on their website, backed up by video demonstrations.  Having done the course, I have an even greater awareness of all the things that can go wrong when looking after children and would recommend that parents, grand-parents – indeed anyone who regularly spends time with children – signs up for a course.  I sincerely hope that no-one’s life ever depends on me, but at least in an emergency I feel I could now do more than just panic. 

*A survey involving more than 2,000 parents undertaken by Bounty’s Word of Mum™ panel 

For more information go to 

To download the Red Cross First Aid Skills Ap go to