First Aid Guide for Kids: Cuts, Burns, Bites, and More

Sometimes kids get hurt—it comes with the territory! Here's how to handle everything from bumps and burns to nosebleeds and twisted ankles like a pro and help your child stay calm in the process.

From the moment your child takes their first steps, they're bound to have some tumbles. While you can't always prevent your natural-born daredevil from getting hurt, you can be prepared.

Get Organized

Start by printing a one-pager that lists your child's underlying conditions or allergies and their medications and supplements (including dosage and frequency). Then staple it to a copy of their immunization record. Keep one copy in your purse, another at home, and a photo of it on your phone. These details could influence the medical treatment your child receives in an emergency.

  • Keep one copy in your daily bag.
  • Keep a photo of it on your phone—save it under favorites to keep it handy.
  • Keep one copy with your home first-aid kit.
  • If your child uses a car seat or booster seat, tape a copy to the back or bottom for emergency responders.

Additionally, update the emergency phone numbers in your phone, such as your child's regular doctor, pharmacy, and any specialists you may need to contact quickly.

And when it comes to easing the pain at the moment? There's plenty you can do to make them feel better. We asked top doctors to share the best methods for patching up wounds, stocking a first-aid kit, and calming little patients—so you can fix any boo-boo fast!

African American boy holding ice packs to his head
Molly Magnuson

How to Treat a Bumped Head

What to do

Wrap an ice pack or a bag of frozen vegetables in a thin towel and hold it against the area to reduce swelling. You can also offer acetaminophen for pain. As long as your child seems like their usual self, just watch them for changes in symptoms or behavior. "Rest is part of the treatment for a concussion, and most young children will need some after even a minor head injury," says Ethan Wiener, M.D., director of the division of pediatric emergency medicine at NYU Langone Health, in New York City.

What to avoid

Don't give ibuprofen to a child with a head injury. The drug might increase bleeding, which can be dangerous when there's the potential risk (even if it's a super-slight one) of a brain injury.

When to get help

Get help if you're concerned about your child's behavior—take them to the doctor or the emergency room to have them examined. "You know your child best," Dr. Wiener says. "Always get him checked if you are worried."

Call 911 if your child is unconscious for any length of time. The same rule applies if they experience persistent nausea or vomiting, double or blurred vision, numbness or tingling in an extremity, or confusion or dizziness. Once you get to the hospital, a doctor will make sure that there's no swelling or bleeding in the brain and evaluate your child for a possible concussion, says Michael Carius, M.D., an emergency physician in Bridgeport, Connecticut, and former president of the American College of Emergency Physicians.

How to Treat a Nosebleed

What to do

Have your kid tilt their head forward slightly, and then use a towel or a wad of tissue to pinch their nose tightly just below the nasal bone. Squirting just a little Afrin Original Nasal Spray into each nostril could help too. Nasal decongestants with oxymetazoline hydrochloride cause vasoconstriction, which means the tiny blood vessels will quickly contract, helping to stop a nosebleed.

Hold this position for ten to 15 minutes to stop the bleeding. Be patient!

"You need to do this for longer than you think, so set a phone timer," suggests Christopher Hogrefe, M.D., clinical associate professor of emergency medicine at the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine, in Iowa City. An hour or so after the nosebleed stops and a clot forms, you can dab Vaseline inside the nostril to keep it moist.

What to avoid

Don't allow your child to lean back. If they do, blood could go down their throat and into their stomach, making them throw up. Discourage them from blowing their nose for several hours, as even a short, gentle blow can trigger the bleeding again. Don't stuff tissue or cotton up their nostril; it is never safe to put any object up a nose.

When to get help

Get medical help if the bleeding doesn't stop within 30 minutes. If your kid's nose looks out of place and you suspect it's broken; head to the E.R.

african-american child's arm with ducks band-aid on hand
Devon Jarvis

How to Treat a Burn

What to do

  • Hold the area under a cool tap for 10 to 15 minutes to cool the skin, ease pain, and halt inflammation.
  • Repeat this process as much as needed for the next 24 to 48 hours, or substitute ice wrapped in a towel.
  • Next, apply an antibiotic ointment such as bacitracin to soothe the burn and help skin cells regenerate.
  • If you think your child is still in pain, you can give them acetaminophen or ibuprofen.
  • If a blister forms, let it be: That bubble is a barrier that helps prevent infection. Once the blister pops on its own, apply an antibiotic ointment and a clean bandage.

What to avoid

Don't use vitamin E or butter—both of these can be irritating. And never place ice directly on a burn; doing so can cause tissue damage.

When to get help

Get help if your child's skin looks very angry, splotchy, wet, or waxy, or if they can't move it. They may have a severe burn that requires prompt medical attention. You should also go straight to the E.R. or your doctor's office if they have any type of chemical burn (if, say, they got bleach or drain cleaner on their skin); if a burn is the size of their palm or larger; if it's on their face, ears, hands, genitals, or feet; or if it extends around their wrist or the circumference of another extremity.

What Are the Different Burn Degrees?
 Burn Degree Where It Affects   What It Looks Like
 First-degree Superficial layer: Outer layer of the skin.  Swollen, red
 Second-degree Damages the outer and underlayer of the skin.  Blisters, swollen, red,
 Third-degree Destroys the outer and underlayer of the skin, and may damage bones and muscle tissue.  White, charred
Any burn that covers 10% or more of a child's body is considered a major injury and requires emergency medical help.

How to Treat a Bad Cut

What to do

Flush the wound with tap water and soap, dab on an antibiotic ointment, and put on a bandage. Dr. Hogrefe says that if you see blood through the bandage, apply direct pressure for 15 minutes and elevate the injured area above the heart to stop the bleeding.

What to avoid

Don't clean a bad cut with alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, or Betadine (an antiseptic). Alcohol stings like mad (which makes for an unhappy kiddo), and hydrogen peroxide and Betadine can damage skin, preventing healing.

When to get help

Get help if a wound is large, gaping, or gushing blood. Your child might need stitches, so head to your doctor's office (provided your kid can be seen right away).

Go to the E.R. if you see deep tissues, ligaments, or bone; if you can't stop the bleeding within 15 minutes; or if you think there might be a foreign body embedded. Don't wait too long: "If the cut is open for more than 24 hours, we generally won't glue or suture it, because then there's a higher risk of infection," Dr. Wiener says. Instead, most doctors will clean, dress, and bandage the wound; this is a safe route to healing, though it can cause slightly more scarring.

red first aid case with white cross
Matthew Roharik/Gallery Stock

How to Treat a Twisted Ankle

What to do

Have your child sit down and elevate their injured ankle above the level of their heart with an ice pack draped over it, Dr. Carius says. Over the next 48 hours, continue to apply ice to the area for 15 minutes every hour. Ibuprofen can also help reduce pain and swelling.

What to avoid

Don't apply a heating pad or let them soak their foot in a warm tub for the first 48 hours. Heat can increase swelling and pain—not what you want!

When to get help

Get help if your child can't bear weight on the injured ankle or if it looks deformed. Go to the E.R. or an urgent-care center. These are signs that it may be broken or dislocated rather than just sprained (when the ligaments are severely stretched).

DIY Gel Ice Pack

Take a gallon-sized ziplock bag and add two cups of water and either one cup of rubbing alcohol or one cup of blue Dawn dish soap. Carefully press out the excess air and seal closed. To prevent leaks, place the bag inside another bag and seal. Freeze for two hours before use.

If Your Child Is Choking

What to do

Keep talking. If your child can answer you with simple sounds, their airway is clear, says Mark Morocco, M.D., clinical professor of emergency medicine at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center.

If they can't respond, get someone to call 911 or dial it yourself and put the phone on speaker. Then do the Heimlich maneuver:

  1. Wrap your arms around your child's waist, make a fist, and place the thumb side of your fist against their upper abdomen (just below their rib cage).
  2. Now grasp your fist with your other hand and perform quick, upward thrusts until the item is expelled.
  3. If your child is a baby or a toddler, pick them up, turn them facedown, and then use the heel of your hand to deliver firm back blows between their shoulder blades.

What to avoid

Don't respond aggressively. "If your child is coughing but can talk, let him cough up the item," Dr. Carius says. Resist the urge to put your fingers in their mouth or down their throat.

When to get help

Get help if their breathing seems strange, or they can't speak normally after the episode—you should take them to the E.R. Always call 911 if your child becomes unresponsive.

Get CPR Training

If you don't know what to do when your child is choking or stops breathing, consider taking a CPR course. You can sign up for in-person or online classes and get the skills to help you be prepared for an emergency situation.

This article originally appeared in Parents Latina's June/July 2020 issue as "First Aid Refresh."

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