Ngā wharanga upoko ki ngā tamariki Head injuries in children

Tamariki (children) often bump their heads because they are active, sometimes fall over, and enjoy rough-and-tumble play. They may get hit on the head while playing with other tamariki. Fortunately, they mostly injure the outside of their heads, not their brains.

What a head injury is

The term 'head injury' refers to injuries you can see on a child's scalp as well as internal injuries to their brain (concussion). Most head injuries in tamariki are not serious. 

Our foreheads and scalps have a very good blood supply. Knocks or injuries to these areas often cause bleeding under the skin. When the bleeding is mainly in one area, it causes swelling and bruising, which appears as an 'egg' or swelling on a child's head. It may take days or even a week to disappear. While these can be scary looking, they usually are not dangerous.

Even a small head bump can cause a large swelling.

Some head injuries can cause damage to the brain which, if mild, is known as a concussion, or if more severe, traumatic brain injury.

Brain injuries in children — KidsHealth (external link)

Getting help

If your tamaiti (child) has bumped their head, you should take them to your healthcare provider straight away if you are concerned, or if they:

  • are a pēpi (baby)
  • have been knocked out (lost consciousness) even briefly
  • will not wake up easily
  • will not stop crying, or become hard to settle
  • throw up (vomit) several times
  • are not walking, talking or behaving normally
  • have a fit (seizure)
  • are not eating or drinking.
Always take your tamaiti to their healthcare provider if you think someone may have hurt them on purpose.

Looking after your child

You can look after your child at home if they:

  • are not a pēpi (baby)
  • have not been knocked out and seem to be alert and behaving normally
  • do not have any of the symptoms listed above.

Keep a close watch on your child for the first 24 hours. Take them to a healthcare provider if they develop any of the symptoms above.

Apply an ice pack or a bag of frozen peas, wrapped in a cloth to the injured part of their head for 10 minutes, every 3 to 4 hours.

Your tamaiti may cry or be distressed. This is normal and most tamariki will settle down within 15 minutes as long as they get the right attention and reassurance. If they do not settle down, take them to a healthcare provider.

If the accident happened close to bed or nap time and your tamaiti goes to sleep afterwards, check them a few times while they sleep. Try to wake your tamaiti — they should grumble a bit and try to go back to sleep.

If they seem very drowsy, even when you have tried to wake them, see your healthcare provider or call 111 for an ambulance.

Preventing head injuries in tamariki

Make sure your tamaiti always wears a helmet when taking part in sport or recreational activities. Do not let them play on concrete or playgrounds with hard surface.

For younger tamariki, make sure you use safety gates near stairs and window guards to prevent them from falling out of windows.

Remember — never shake your pēpi.

You can find out more about keeping your child safe, including an app you can download, on the SafeKids Aotearoa website.

SafeKids Aotearoa (external link)

Clinical review

This content was written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. It has been adapted for Health Information and Services.

Clinical advisers — HealthInfo (external link)