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First Aid & Emergencies

Babysitting: Dealing With a Head Injury

Most head injuries are minor and, usually, kids will only hurt the outside of their head.

Still, severe head injuries and concussions can happen. Serious head injuries can cause bruising or bleeding in the brain and will require immediate medical attention.

If a head injury happens, always contact the child’s parents. They may want to watch for any unusual behavior for the next 24 hours.

Possible signs and symptoms of a mild head injury include:

  • mild scalp swelling
  • cut on the scalp
  • mild headache
  • vomiting two or three times

Possible signs and symptoms of a serious head injury include:

  • unconsciousness or unresponsiveness
  • obvious serious wound
  • blood or clear fluid from the nose or ear
  • changes in behavior such as appearing confused or excessively sleepy
  • dizziness or stumbling
  • seizure
  • vomiting more than two or three times, or vomiting hours after injury
  • severe or worsening headache

What to Do

If a child sustains a head injury:

  • If you suspect the injury is serious, call 911 immediately and then the child’s parents.
  • Never move an unconscious child.
  • Start cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) if the child is not breathing. If you are not trained in CPR, follow instructions from the 911 dispatcher.

If the injury is minor, watch the child closely to make sure he or she is safe.

To help prevent head injuries:

  • Require kids to wear helmets that fit correctly when playing contact sports, biking, skating, or skateboarding.
  • Use the safety belts on changing tables (or change diapers on the floor).
  • Never place baby seats or carriers on countertops or other high surfaces.
  • Keep infants off beds or other furniture.
  • Don’t use infant walkers.

Reviewed by: Kate M. Cronan, MD
Date reviewed: January 2011