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HealthInfo Waitaha Canterbury

Head injuries in children

Ngā wharanga upoko ki ngā tamariki

child with bruise on foreheadTamariki (children) often bump their heads because they're 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.

The term "head injury" refers to injuries you can see on a child's scalp as well as internal injuries to their brain. Brain injuries are sometimes called traumatic brain injuries, and concussion is sometimes called a minor traumatic brain injury.

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 aren't dangerous.

Even a small head bump can cause a large swelling.

Treating head injuries in children

If your tamaiti (child) has bumped their head, you should take them to a doctor if they:


Phone 111 for an ambulance if your tamaiti has hit their head and is not behaving normally afterwards. Always take your tamaiti to a doctor if you think someone may have hurt them on purpose.

If your tamaiti has bumped their head and they aren't a pēpi, have not been knocked out and seem to be alert and behaving normally, keep a close eye on them for 24 hours. If you notice any of the above signs, take them to a doctor straight away.

Immediately after the injury:

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 doctor.

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've tried to wake them by sitting them up, see your general practice team or dial 111 for an ambulance.

Preventing head injuries in children

Make sure your tamaiti always wears a helmet when taking part in sport or recreational activities, and 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. And remember, never shake your pēpi.

Read about tips to make your home safer.

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Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Last reviewed October 2022.


Page reference: 429824

Review key: HIBRI-52920