Toddlers love to explore, which gives them lots of opportunities to learn about their environment. Unfortunately, it also gives them opportunities to get injured. Knowing ahead of time what to do if your little one has an injury can help you stay calm and get the right treatment. Moreover, understanding how common toddler injuries happen can help you take steps to prevent them.
If your child is injured, try to remain calm — if you panic or appear upset, chances are they will react the same way. Many toddler injuries are minor and can be treated at home, but others may require a doctor’s visit or emergency care. Here’s how to handle and help prevent common injuries.
Cuts, scratches, bruises and abrasions can easily happen when an energetic toddler bumps into things or falls down. Wash the area gently with lukewarm water and mild soap, then examine the injury. Minor cuts and scrapes that barely break the skin usually just need to be kept clean and dry; apply an antibacterial first-aid ointment such as Neosporin to prevent infection and promote healing. If the wound is raw or bleeding, cover it with an adhesive bandage for a day or two, and change the bandage frequently to keep the area dry.
Cuts or abrasions that are deep and bleed profusely require emergency care, especially if you can see muscle or bone beneath the surface. Wrap the wound in a clean cloth, try to keep the injury elevated above the heart, and head to the emergency room.
Prevent cuts and scrapes is challenging, but it may help to get down on your hands and knees to get a toddler’s view of the area and look for potential dangers such as sharp furniture edges or trip hazards. You can place soft “bumpers” on table edges, tack down corners of area rugs and use toddler gates at stairways.
Minor burns generally can be managed at home with cold compresses and a soothing burn ointment. However, if the burn forms blisters or you’re not sure how serious it is, take your child to the doctor to determine if additional treatment is needed. Never put butter or any type of oil on a burn.
Keep your child away from a hot stove and make sure to place all cookware handles out of reach. In addition, check your hot water temperature to avoid scald injuries.
“The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends setting your water heater to 120 degrees Fahrenheit or below,” says Dr. Singh. “If you don't have control over your water heater, you can use an anti-scald device on your faucet that automatically turns off if the water gets too hot.”
Little fingers, toes, arms and legs can be caught in doors, hurt in falls or injured at play. Treat minor swelling and bruising with rest and ice; if the injury does not improve or worsens in a few days, call your pediatrician. If your child is unable to move the injured part or it is deformed or very painful, take them to the emergency room.
It’s not easy to prevent active kids from getting injured. Try to avoid play on hard surfaces and use safety equipment like helmets and pads. At home, you can use gates to block off stairways and put protective equipment on doors and cabinets to keep them from slamming shut.
“The red flags to watch out for with head injuries are loss of consciousness, persistent vomiting and abnormal behavior, and if you see these you should go to the emergency room,” says Dr. Singh. “But it is a good idea to have any head injury checked out by a doctor, just to be safe.”
Toddlers love to put things in their mouths, which can lead to choking or poisoning. CPR training can prepare you to help a choking child after you’ve called 911 and emergency help is on the way. Put the poison control hotline number ( 800-222-1222) on speed dial and provide as much information as you can about what your child swallowed.
Keep medications securely locked away and small objects, such as coins and pennies, out of your child’s reach. Carefully examine toys and clothing for small pieces that can come off and present a choking hazard, including batteries. Fortunately, most of the items kids swallow pass through the digestive system without any problems.
“Toddlers get into everything, so really make sure you get down on their level and look around for potential dangers,” says Dr. Singh. “And if you’re not sure how serious an injury is, play it safe and go to the ER.”