Concussions in Children

Written by Dr. Veronica Medina

Concussions in Children

Concussions in children have been a “hot topic,” especially related to participation in sports.  It’s important to take time to understand: what a concussion is, what are some signs and symptoms of a concussion in your child, and how to support your child during their recovery.

A concussion is a type of traumatic brain injury that changes the way the brain normally works. Concussions are caused by a bump, blow, or jolt to the head or body that causes the head and brain to move quickly back and forth.  You can’t see a concussion, and brain imaging (like MRI or CT Scans) is usually not helpful in diagnosing a concussion. Signs and symptoms of concussion can show up right after an injury or may not appear or be noticed until hours or days after the injury. It is important to watch for changes in how your child or teen is acting or feeling, if symptoms are getting worse, or if s/he just “doesn’t feel right.” Most concussions occur without loss of consciousness.

Here is what to look out for after an injury:

Physical symptoms:

  • Bothered by light or noise
  • Dizziness or balance problems
  • Feeling tired, no energy
  • Headaches
  • Nausea or vomiting (early on)
  • Vision problems

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Attention or concentration problems
  • Feeling slowed down
  • Foggy or groggy
  • Problems with short- or long-term memory
  • Trouble thinking clearly

Emotional Symptoms

  • Anxiety or nervousness
  • Irritability or easily angered
  • Feeling more emotional
  • Sadness


  • Sleeping less than usual
  • Sleeping more than usual
  • Trouble falling asleep

Steps you can take as your child recovers:

RIGHT AFTER THE INJURY: Take it easy the first few days after the injury when symptoms are more severe:

  • Early on limit physical and cognitive (thinking or remembering) activities to avoid causing symptoms to worsen.
  • Get a good night’s sleep and take naps during the day as needed.
  • Find relaxing activities at home (such as reading, drawing, and playing with toys).
  • Avoid activities that put your child at risk for another injury to the head and brain throughout the course or recovery.

WITHIN A FEW DAYS: As your child starts to feel better (and within a few days after the injury), he or she can gradually return to regular (non-strenuous) activities.

  • Return to school gradually. If symptoms do not worsen during an activity, then this activity is OK for your child. If symptoms worsen, cut back on that activity until it is tolerated.
  • Encourage outside time, such as taking short walks.
  • Get maximum nighttime sleep. Tips: Avoid screen time and loud music before bed, sleep in a dark room, and keep to a fixed bedtime and wake up schedule.
  • Reduce daytime naps or return to a regular daytime nap schedule (as appropriate for their age).

WHEN SYMPTOMS ARE NEARLY GONE: When symptoms are mild and nearly gone, return to most regular activities

  • Have your child take breaks if their concussion symptoms worsen.
  • Return to a regular school schedule.
  • Encourage outside time, such as taking a walk or short bike ride and playground time.

BACK TO REGULAR NON-SPORTS ACTIVITIES: Recovery from a concussion is when your child is able to do all of their regular activities without experiencing any concussion symptoms.

  • If you notice any changes or a return of symptoms, be sure to contact your child’s doctor.
  • With the OK from their doctor, your child may begin a return to sports process. Be sure to ask for instructions and share this information with your child’s coach and athletic trainer.