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Responding to Injuries

Despite your best efforts to keep infants and toddlers safe, injuries can happen. You must be prepared to respond quickly when a child or staff member gets hurt. This lesson will help you recognize different events that can cause injuries, how to keep infants and toddlers safe, and when to get them medical attention.

  • Identify your role in responding to injuries.
  • Recognize when you need to call emergency medical services to respond to an injury.
  • Develop a plan to maintain classroom order during an emergency.


This lesson only provides a very brief introduction to keeping children safe when they are injured. You are required to maintain current CPR and first aid certification.


Infants and toddlers are natural explorers. Have you ever thought, “That child has no fear!”? You were probably right. Infants and toddlers do not recognize the danger in situations. They challenge their developing bodies and minds. You have to be prepared to respond to a range of injuries. Some injuries will require cleaning and bandaging. Other injuries require immediate medical attention. You must be able to tell the difference between the two. You must be prepared to respond during any situation. Consider these examples:

  1. Dante and Claire are toddling after one another on a paved surface on the playground. Dante trips and skins his knee.
  2. Madison and Tristan are riding tricycles down a path that goes down a slight hill. Madison stops her trike at the bottom of the hill. Tristan can't stop in time and runs into Madison. Both trikes fall over on top of the children. Madison hits her mouth on the bar of her trike and cracks her lip.
  3. Luke drops his soccer ball on the way to his dad's car. It rolls into the parking lot and he toddles out to  get it. An oncoming vehicle cannot stop in time to miss him.
  4. Luis crawls over to his caregiver and opens his hand to reveal a few small pills. They must have fallen out of an adult's purse. When a caregiver gets him to open his mouth, she sees more pills there.
  5. Millie is giggling and clapping her hands during lunch. Suddenly her face turns red, her eyes get wide, and she stops making any sounds. It appears she is choking.

Your facilities and classrooms are designed to minimize risks when accidents occur. For example, properly inspected playground equipment and cushioned fall zones make it unlikely a child would be seriously injured in a fall from the slide. The safety rules you teach make it less likely children will collide with one another at high speeds. Even in the best situations, though, accidents happen. You must be prepared to act on injuries big and small. 

Some injuries are small and only require minor first aid. For example, when Dante skins his knee, his caregiver will likely respond by cleaning the wound, applying a bandage, and completing an incident report. Dante is able to continue playing. 

Other injuries are serious but not life threatening. For example, Madison may need medical treatment for her injuries, but she is not likely to face permanent disability or death. 

Some injuries are life threatening and require immediate medical attention. For example, Luke's accident with a moving vehicle, Luis's ingestion of pills, and Millie's choking could all result in serious injury or death. As a child development professional, you must be able to recognize these situations and respond appropriately. 

You must know what resources are available for helping an injured child. Your options will depend on the severity of the injury and the urgency of the situation. If the injury is minor, like a cracked lip, a caregiver trained in first aid can offer immediate care. If a child is choking or not breathing, a caregiver trained in first aid or CPR should also respond immediately. Training on first aid and CPR is offered by your employer and community agencies, such as the Red Cross. If an injury is severe or a child displays life-threatening symptoms, call emergency medical services (EMS). EMS refers to any emergency responders in your area. These may be firefighters, ambulance companies, or the police. EMS services are reached when you dial 911. 

Identifying and Responding to Concussions

As infants and toddlers are growing and learning new skills, accidents are bound to occur. But what happens when an infant or toddler suffers a significant head injury? What if they are too young to communicate how they feel as a result? With increasing research about the long-term effects of traumatic brain injuries, it is important for caregivers to understand how to properly identify and respond to head injuries in young children.

Childhood concussions are common. They can affect a child’s ability to think, learn, and interact with the world around them. According to Dr. Sam Torbati of Cedars-Sinai Hospital (2021), a concussion is “a mild, temporary form of brain injury that can result after a forceful blow to the head or jolt to the body which causes the brain to bounce against the skull.” Concussions are often thought to be the result of sports injuries, therefore not commonly associated with infants and toddlers. However, the most common reasons for a concussion in younger children are falls or collisions with objects such a ball, peer, table, or wall. The following are a few scenarios in which a concussion could occur in an infant or toddler:

  • 11-month-old Sammy is learning to stand independently and take a few steps. He is rolling a ball on the floor and crawling after it. The ball stops under the snack table and Sammy crawls to get it. Instead of crawling away, he tries to stand up to walk and hits his head on the edge of the table.
  • Two toddlers, Austin and Anna are pretending to be superheroes. The children are running the gross motor area. Anna climbs onto a mat and jumps off, colliding heads with Austin.

Symptoms of a concussion can appear immediately following the injury or up to a few days afterwards. For this reason, it is important for caregivers to carefully observe the child and track their symptoms over the course of several days. Below are common symptoms you may notice in infants and toddlers who have experienced a concussion:

  • Frequent vomiting
  • Excessive crying (especially when moving head)
  • Significant changes in sleep patterns
  • Changes in appetite
  • Decreased interaction

Regardless of the perceived severity of the head injury, caregivers should take the following actions after a blow to the head occurs:

  1. Stay calm: We know that young children’s actions and feelings are affected by their caregivers’ responses. When you remain calm, the child can focus on calming themselves if they are upset.
  2. Take action: Use your knowledge of the typical appearance and behavior of the child. If anything seems out of the ordinary, or you observe any of the symptoms listed above, seek appropriate medical care. Once the situation has been evaluated, provide appropriate first aid (stop any bleeding, clean any cuts or scrapes, apply bandages or cold compress).
  3. Notify: Whenever a child suffers a head injury, providers should contact the child’s family to notify them of what occurred and the status of the child. If immediate medical attention is needed, ask a coworker or administrator to contact the family after Emergency Medical Services (911) has been contacted.
  4. Document: Be sure to complete the incident reporting form used by your program or Service. One copy will be provided to the child’s family, and one will go in the child’s program records. This is an important step as symptoms of a concussion may not appear for a few days. Refer to your program or Service specific guidelines for additional required documentation.

Concussion symptoms in infants and younger toddlers are especially important to note as children under 2 years of age are at a higher risk for more serious brain injuries. If you notice excessive vomiting in infants and toddlers, you should seek medical attention right away. Additional symptoms that warrant an emergency visit to a doctor or hospital (in all ages) include worsened headache, increased confusion, inability to stay awake, slurred speech, weakness, seizures, and loss of consciousness.

Symptoms of a concussion will look different for every child. The recovery time will look different as well. Regardless of how the injury occurred or presented in a child, monitoring and rest is important for all ages to properly recover from a concussion. If mild symptoms persist for longer than a week or you observe signs of a regression in the child’s development, talk with their family about contacting their pediatrician for follow-up care.


You must know what to look for when you are deciding how to respond to an injury.

If a child has any of the following symptoms, call emergency medical services (EMS) right away:

  • You believe the child's life is at risk or there is a risk of permanent injury.
  • The child has difficulty breathing, is having an asthma exacerbation, or is unable to speak.
  • The child's skin or lips look blue, purple, or gray.
  • The child has rhythmic jerking of arms and legs and a loss of consciousness (seizure).
  • The child is unconscious.
  • The child is less and less responsive.
  • The child has any of the following after a head injury: decrease in level of alertness, confusion, headache, vomiting, changes in appetite or sleep patterns, irritability, or difficulty walking.
  • The child has increasing or severe pain anywhere.
  • The child has a cut or burn that is large, deep, or won't stop bleeding.
  • The child is vomiting blood.
  • The child has a severe stiff neck, headache, and fever.
  • The child is significantly dehydrated: sunken eyes, lethargic, not making tears, not urinating.
  • Multiple children are affected by injury or serious illness at the same time.
  • When in doubt, call EMS.

After you have called EMS, remember to contact the child's legal guardian.

If a child has any of the following symptoms, get medical attention within one hour:

  • Fever in any age child who looks more than mildly ill
  • Fever in a child less than eight weeks of age
  • A quickly spreading purple or red rash
  • A large volume of blood in the stool
  • A cut that may require stitches
  • Any medical condition specifically outlined in a child's care plan requiring parental notification


  • Prevent injuries. Follow procedures outlined in other lessons in this course. Make sure dangerous and toxic items are out of children's reach.
  • Be prepared. Have a well-stocked first aid kit. Make sure your first aid and CPR training are always current.
  • Respond quickly. Use what you learned in your first aid courses.
  • Stay calm. This provides assurrance to the child and keeps the scene as calm as possible.
  • Survey the scene. Look around and find out what is wrong. Decide whether it is safe for you to approach. Tell the child you are there to help. Ask questions and examine the child head-to-toe for injuries.
  • Take action. Decide whether injuries are life threatening. Is the child conscious? Is the child breathing? If the child is not breathing, perform CPR as needed. Use what you learned in your first aid and CPR training to do the procedure correctly. If the injury is not life threatening, check the child head-to-toe. Look for all injuries. Ask the child questions and continue to check breathing and heart rate. Perform any basic first aid that is needed. Do not move the child unless his or her life is at risk.
  • Make the calls. Decide whether you need to call EMS. Call the child's family.
  • Ride along. Be prepared to ride with the child in the ambulance. Know what documents and contact information you need to bring with you.
  • Document. Report the injury using the forms provided by your workplace and any forms required by your state or program. Make sure the family also signs the incident report.

When it comes to responding to injuries, make sure you always do the following:

  • Have a fully stocked first aid kit in the classroom.
  • Have a fully stocked first aid kit that can be taken along on the playground or field trips.
  • Know how to stop any bleeding with a child.
  • Know what to do if a child is not breathing.
  • Know how and when to call 911 or Emergency Medical Services.
  • Know where your program's accident report forms are located and the procedure for completing one.


It is important to think about what you would do during stressful situations. Read and review the Responding to Injuries activity. Complete the answers and share with your coach, trainer, or administrator. Then compare your answers to the suggested responses.


Make sure you are prepared for injuries and other emergencies. Read the First Aid Kit Checklist and use it to make sure your first aid kit is well-stocked.


Which of the following is a life-threatening situation?
A call to EMS would not be necessary for which of the following situations?
Which of the following statements are true?
References & Resources

American Academy of Pediatrics. (2019, September 24). When your child needs emergency medical services. Healthy Children

Cedars-Sinai Staff. (2021, July 29). Concussion symptoms in children: What to know. Cedars-Sinai Hospital.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2018). Caring for your child’s concussion.

Cleveland Clinic. (2020, May 5). 10 things parents should know about children and concussions. 

Kids Health. Concussions. (2019, February).

Podolak, O. (2020, June 18). The natural history of concussion in infants and children under age 5. Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

Podolak, O.E., Chaudhary, S., Haarbauer-Krupa, J., Metzger, K.B., Curry, A.E., Kessler, R.S., Pfeiffer, M.R., Breiding, M.J., Master, C.L., & Arbogast, K.B. (2021). Characteristics of diagnosed concussions in children aged 0 to 4 years presenting to a large pediatric healthcare network. Retrieved March 10, 2022, from

UNC Health. (2018, April 23). Spotting concussions in babies and toddlers.