I was less than two steps ahead of my 3-year-old daughter, Jillian, when her foot slipped off our front stairs. Within the seconds it took to grab her off the cement walkway, a nasty goose egg had started to form, and blood was gushing from a scrape above her eye. The result -- a shiny black eye, an unsightly gash, and an odd-shaped lump -- remained for weeks, but the doctor's prognosis was good: Jillian, like most kids who have that sort of accident, would be fine.
If it feels like your child is constantly taking a tumble, you're probably right. Falls are the leading cause of nonfatal injuries in kids of all ages, and they're the number-one cause of head injuries in those under age 9, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Children under 4 are the most frequent victims of head injuries, and young athletes get mild-to-serious concussions on a regular basis. It's not known how likely it is that a child who hits her head will have a concussion, partly because there's no agreement among experts on the definition of the term in children. Most people think of a concussion as just a bump to the head and assume everything is going to be okay, says Carol DeMatteo, associate clinical professor of occupational therapy at the School of Rehabilitation Science at McMaster University, in Hamilton, Ontario. In fact, a concussion is technically a traumatic brain injury (TBI), though this doesn't necessarily mean that there will be permanent damage. "Even if it's mild, be concerned and watch your child closely," advises DeMatteo. Chances are, your child will one day have a knock on the noggin, so we asked experts to tell us what you should know.