5 Things My Kids Taught Me About EMS

I’m blessed with two kids. They are amazing. My kids changed my whole perspective on the world. They re-framed my purpose. It’s wonderful, the way a few minutes with your kids can put an entire bad day in perspective. They also force you to evaluate some of your own behaviors. (If you’re lucky.)

Here are a few of the more valuable lessons I’ve learned from my kids.


1.) Test Your Limits.

Kids know this instinctively. The moment you create a boundary they begin testing it. There is no running in this area. How fast is running? Can we just walk really fast? What about jogging?  It’s like they just instinctively know that life is more fun when you’re testing the limits.

Sure there are boundaries that we all have to live within but when was the last time you gave them a little test or maybe tried to actively redefine them? “OK, are you saying that I can’t attend this training or that you’re not willing to pay for me to attend this training? So are you saying we can’t use the conference room for an EMS journal club or we can’t use it during business hours?”

2.) Every New Thing Is A Chance To Learn.

Kids are like little information sponges. I had always heard this, but I didn’t really get it until I had kids. When you watch the way a 5 month old goes after a toy with her hands, face and mouth, just trying to absorb every bit of information about its size, texture, color and smell you start to get it. Turn a six year old loose in the woods and watch what happens. The world is a library of experience.

Have you ever thought what your skills might be like if your looked at patients and calls with this same, “What’s that?” attitude. What if you devoured history’s and medication lists with the same enthusiasm as a kid with a new toy? I’m guessing your knowledge and skills would quickly become remarkable.

3.) The Fastest Way to Get Better Is To Copy Someone.

If you ever get a chance to watch a bunch of 11 year old boys play league baseball, pay attention to how they bat. Very few of them can hit the ball well at this level. They’re just moving up into fast pitch. But every one of them has a pre-swing routine. A little pattern of practice swings and adjustments that they’ve learned from watching their favorite players on TV. It’s really very entertaining.

Nobody ever had to tell any of those boys to watch every move their baseball idols make and then copy them. They also don’t spend a lot of time analyzing the exact purpose of these moves and behaviors. They just know that part of being good is watching the guys who are already good and copying them. Do you want to be better at an EMS skill? Find someone who’s already really good at it, pay close attention to them and then become them each time you do the skill. Then put your own unique flair in for the next guy to copy.

4.) Whatever Happens, Adapt and Enjoy.

In Colorado our summers are typically punctuated by afternoon thunder storms. Kids learn quickly that pool, park and outdoor play often gets interrupted by the need to take refuge from the weather. When this happens there is always a few moments of disappointed ho-humming, and then they adapt. It doesn’t much matter where they are forced to find shelter, the game quickly evolves to accommodate the new environment and the play continues.

Wouldn’t it be amazing if all of us could adapt so well? As adults we seem to get disoriented and frustrated at the first sign of our plan becoming derailed. We struggle with change. A new med kit or a different rig assignment can shake us for hours. A protocol change or unpopular memo can ruin our day. Kids understand that in the big scheme of things those little disruptions are never worth ruining the fun over. “Wow, what a crappy memo. I can’t believe we’re going to do that. Hey let’s go play outside!”

5.) Share Your Gum and Hang Your Pictures On The Fridge.

Kids seem to have a natural inclination to want to share their things. They display their accomplishments with zeal and always want you to check out their latest boo-boo. They relate their experiences without complex apprehensions about what the listener might infer or how it might reflect on their knowledge or skills.

We adults, on he other hand, get funny about that stuff. How did you feel the last time you heard one of your trips was gong to be reviewed at the next monthly call review? Did you jump at the chance to share your call and your experiences. Did you want the experience of standing in front of your peers and talking about things you did good and things you wish you had done better?

Imagine what that might be like to be completely willing to present yourself to your peers as an authentic, flawed human being still experiencing success and failure. Still striving to improve and being totally willing to allow others to share in your mistakes and perhaps learn for them as well.

You can learn a lot from a kid.


  1. Great post Steve!,

    I too would love to see some (no all) staff be able to stand in front of their peers and critically review some of the jobs they have attended on. It would be such a great learning opportunity, if handled properly and supportively. However, I think most of the paramedics I know would be mortified about having to discuss their rationale for any actions that they did or didnt do on scene at a job.. Its not part of the UK ambulance culture, even though it should be!

    “Wow, what a crappy memo. I can’t believe we’re going to do that. Hey let’s go play outside!”

    Wouldnt that just be fab too!!

    Actually,the more I think about it the more I realise that the main reason that we dont do any of the things you mentioned in the 5 points above is that they arent ‘cool’ to do. Who wants to be ‘that’ guy who goes out of his way to seek out learning opportunities, who actively seeks constructive criticism on the way they do thier job, who would love to set up a journal club so that more than just him learns from articles and research that he has read and who sometimes steps outside of his guidelines when treating a patient, but with sound clinical rationale for doing so and follows up with reporting himself to the clinical department for doing so……

    Oh wait, that would be me then!!

    I may not be the coolest paramedic on the block and not with the ‘in crowd’ at work, but I know that I am good at my job!

  2. 6. Kids have taught me to use all my senses for assessment. For example, when my children were infants and we were struggling with helping them learn to sleep through the night. Without getting out of bed I knew crying meant patent airway, regular and adequate breathing, and strong pulse.

    Also as a new parent I often had the urge to make sure the kids were sleeping. On hundreds of occasions I have gently rested my hand on their backs to feel for rhythmic and gentle breathing. I don’t know if there is anything more reassuring.