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Signs of Concussion in Toddlers: 27 Warning Signs of Concussion in Children

If your child has an accident and bumps their head, you may worry about a concussion. But it’s hard to know what to do unless you know the signs of concussion in toddlers.

Let’s cover the basics of concussion injuries and outline symptoms for you to watch out for in babies, toddlers, and children over 3 so you can keep your little ones safe.

The word concussion is derived from the Latin word, concussus, which means to shake violently. A concussion is a mild traumatic brain injury or TBI.

Concussion is the most common type of TBI. It happens when an external force is applied to the head and causes stress to the brain tissue. This can be caused by bumping into a wall or counter edge too hard, falling down, or an object making firm contact with the head.

Because a concussion is a brain injury, it can affect a range of things in the person who has one. Concussions can have emotional, physical, behavioral, or cognitive effects.

Most children will get a blow to the head at some point in their development, which is why it’s so important to know the concussion symptoms in children.

Concussion symptoms and signs are mostly the same for people within different age groups, but young children and babies have fewer symptoms. Their brains are not fully developed, and it can be difficult to determine if your baby or child has a concussion. 

The most important thing to watch out for is a change in their behavior. If your child gets a bump on the head and starts acting differently, even slightly, check for the other signs of a concussion within their age group, and call your health care provider right away.

Sometimes symptoms don’t appear until days afterward, which is why head injury in children requires consistent monitoring for a few days.

Babies have the least communication ability and the most sensitive brains. It can be hard to check symptoms of a concussion in a baby.

If your infant falls out of bed or experiences a head injury, check for these symptoms:

  • Loss of consciousness
  • Inconsolable crying
  • Vomiting
  • Excessive sleepiness
  • Pupillary changes
  • Refusing to eat
  • Prolonged periods of silence
  • Irritability
  • Temporary loss of newly learned skills

The most important thing to check for is a different pattern than what you’re used to. Concussions can affect behaviors and physical abilities, so you can watch your baby to see if they don’t quite seem themselves. 

Toddlers do have some communication skills. There are also a few more signs of concussion in toddlers.

Toddlers are just getting the hang of walking and balance, so they run and play a lot. They can get hurt if they run in the house or bang their head on things, so keep track of these concussion symptoms in kids when you are concerned about a TBI. 

  • Tiring easily, listlessness
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Crankiness, irritability
  • Somnolence — the strong desire to sleep, drowsiness
  • Pupils that are larger than normal, pupils of different sizes
  • Refusing to eat
  • Nausea and vomiting

At this stage, your toddler may be able to tell you that they feel funny. If you notice that their emotions or behaviors have changed, they may have a concussion. Check their physical skills. If they just learned how to hold a crayon but now can’t seem to grasp it, that’s the type of thing to look out for. 

Children over 3 have more communication skills than toddlers and babies, so they may tell you if they feel unusual or different after a head injury. 

They also have more symptoms because their brain has developed more. Symptoms of concussions in children are:

  • Dazed appearance
  • Easily tired and listless
  • Cranky and irritable
  • Difficulty walking 
  • Poor balance
  • Excessive crying
  • Somnolence
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Pupillary changes
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Change in eating or sleeping patterns
  • Loss of interest in their favorite toys

Listen to your children carefully for a few days after a head injury. If they start to mention that they feel funny or their head feels weird, they may have a concussion. Watch them during playtime. If they seem to tire out and lose interest in their toys, they may have difficulty concentrating due to a concussion. 

Because symptoms of concussion in children may not appear for a few days, you should contact your doctor right away if your child experiences a head injury. 

Anything larger than a light bump needs to be looked at by a doctor. Even if the child has no bleeding and doesn’t need emergency care, they should still get looked at. 

If the doctor determines your child doesn’t have symptoms of a concussion, they may not need further testing. If they are active, behave and move normally, and respond to you, their head injury is probably mild. They can even nap or sleep at this point if they want to.

You need to seek emergency care if your child experiences these symptoms: 

  • Repeated vomiting
  • Loss of consciousness longer than 30 seconds
  • Changes in behavior, such as irritability
  • A headache that gets worse over time
  • Stumbling or clumsiness
  • Confusion, disorientation — struggling to recognize people and places
  • Changes in speech like slurring
  • Seizures
  • Pupillary changes
  • Lasting or recurring dizziness
  • Loss of mental concentration
  • Symptoms that worsen over time
  • Large head bumps or bruises on areas other than the forehead, especially in infants

If your child is experiencing these symptoms, don’t let them fall asleep until a doctor sees them.

If your child is diagnosed with a concussion, here’s what the doctor can do for them.

The number one rule for treating a concussion is rest. When the brain is injured, it needs to heal, and it heals by resting. Your child needs to avoid excessive physical activity. They also need to avoid tasks and playtime that involves mental concentration and thinking, including:

  • Video games
  • TV
  • Schoolwork
  • Reading
  • Texting
  • Using a computer

These activities can trigger or worsen symptoms during the healing process and should be avoided. If your child is school age, you need to talk with your child’s teacher about:

  • Shortened school days
  • Frequent breaks during the day
  • Reduced school workloads 

As your child recovers, they can start to do these activities again. Watch out for their symptoms. You’ll know they’re healing when their symptoms go away and activities that require mental and physical concentration no longer trigger their symptoms. 

Athletes experience head injuries frequently and have a useful step-by-step guide that helps them get back on the playing field. Parents can use this adapted guide to see how their child is progressing with recovery.

Follow these steps when testing to see if your child is fully recovered from a concussion and ready to resume normal play and school hours. Do each step one day at a time, giving your child 24 hours for each one.

  • Step 1: No activity — rest
  • Step 2: Light activity, such as very easy mental and physical games
  • Step 3: Mild activity, like short and simple games and play
  • Step 4: Easy games and schoolwork 
  • Step 5: Shortened regular games and schoolwork
  • Step 6: Return to normal 

Once the signs of concussion in toddlers subside, the child can return to normal work and play. If symptoms return, go back to step one and start over.

Brain injuries are a scary thing for parents to worry about. Luckily, recovery is all about symptom watching and rest.

If at any time during your child’s recovery they have worsened symptoms, take them back to their doctor. Healing from a concussion takes time and patience. Keep track of the signs of concussion in toddlers. Every brain heals at a different rate. You know your child is safe when their symptoms don’t return, even during bouts of physical activity and concentration.

https://www.aafp.org/afp/2019/0401/p426.html

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/concussion/symptoms-causes/syc-20355594

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/concussion/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20355600

https://www.aans.org/Patients/Neurosurgical-Conditions-and-Treatments/Concussion

https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/126/3/597#T5

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4055317/

https://www.cdc.gov/headsup/basics/concussion_danger_signs.html

https://www.cdc.gov/headsup/basics/concussion_symptoms.html

https://www.cdc.gov/headsup/pdfs/schools/tbi_factsheets_parents-508-a.pdf

https://medlineplus.gov/ency/patientinstructions/000125.htm

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