Steps to take if Your Child has a Traumatic Accident
As a nurse in the Division of Pediatric Rehabilitation Medicine at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, I see many head and spine injuries. During the summer, kids spend more time playing and enjoying the great outdoors. Accidents tend to happen more often during the summer months. Kids can hit their head on the basketball court, get hit in the head with a baseball, all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) can flip over (popular activity in Southern California) or kids might dive into shallow water thinking it was deeper. I want to share important steps to take if you witness your child experience an accident.
Step One. Avoid scooping-up your child. Do not move your child unless they are in a potentially dangerous situation. Don’t put something under their head to cushion it. As a mom, I know my first instinct when my kids fall is to scoop up my child and see if they are okay. Let your child lie where they fell. If they are lying in an unsafe location like the street or face down in water, move them carefully to a safe location.
Step Two. Assess your child. Always check to see if your child is breathing. If they are not breathing, are unresponsive or appear severely injured, call 911 and start cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) if necessary. If you do not know CPR, I recommend taking a class, which is offered at many American Red Cross locations, your community center or call the Helen and Bill Close Family Resource Center at Children's Hospital Los Angeles to find out when the next CPR class is taking place. You may need to move your child to perform CPR. That’s okay because helping your child breathe is a priority. First things first!
Step Three. Ask your child to wiggle their toes. Also ask them to move their arms and legs. If they can’t wiggle their toes, arms and legs or if the movement seems weak or otherwise abnormal, call 911. Do not move your child (unless you need to do CPR or move them to a safe area). If your child cannot wiggle their toes, arms or legs, it may indicate that they have a spinal cord injury. Moving your child, who may have a spinal cord injury, can lead to a more severe injury.
Step Four. See if your child is “with it.” Check to see if your child is disoriented or otherwise “out of it.” Here are some questions to ask your child.
- What’s their name?
- Where are they now?
- What day of the week is it?
- Can they say the alphabet?
If your child’s responses seem slow, are not the correct answers or if the pupils in their eyes are not equal in size, call 911 or take your child to the closest emergency room. All of these are signs of a possible brain injury and should be taken seriously.
Step Five. Is there blood? Apply steady pressure until the bleeding stops, clean the wound with soap and water or a non-stinging cleaning liquid meant for that purpose and apply a bandage. However, if the wound is deep, if it won’t stop bleeding after you apply pressure, if the blood is spurting out of the body or your child’s bone is showing, call 911.
When you witness your child experience a hard fall or traumatic injury and after you’ve followed the above five steps and they appear just fine, let them get up. It’s important to keep an eye on them for a bit. If anything changes or they start to act strangely, seem confused, wet themselves, complain of a very bad headache, etc. call 911 or go to the emergency room immediately. You can also call their pediatrician if you are still concerned, even after they appear to be okay.
Accidents are scary and I recommend every parent take a CPR class. Hopefully you will never need to use the skill, but having the knowledge could save a life.
I also recommend that parent take a first aid class and have a first aid kit at home and in the car. My first aid kit includes:
- Bandages with cartoons and characters on them
- Antibiotic ointment
- A non-stinging cleaning liquid
- Tweezers, gauze, paper tape and butterfly bandages (image right)
- Children’s acetaminophen and diphenhydramine
- A list of emergency phone numbers.
I keep a simple version of the kit in the car and have my full kit at home.
Hopefully you will never need to use the information I shared with you today. But just in case, now you know and can share it with other parents you know. Play safe this summer!