Basic First Aid Tips for Kids All Parents Should Know

Mom tending to a child's wound

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No parent wants to think about their child getting hurt or injured, yet it’s impossible to keep your child in a bubble forever (though don’t we all wish we could?). All children are going to have mishaps and injuries—some will even be serious. That’s why it’s incumbent on all of us parents to be prepared, and that means having a basic understanding of first aid for children.

Probably the best way to do this is to take a first aid class, as nothing can beat “hands-on” knowledge. CPR specifically is something that is really best taught in person, and experts recommend all parents take infant and child CPR classes. But if you are looking for a “cheat sheet” for what to do in various emergency situations, we’ve got you covered.

Here are the most common situations where your child may require first aid—and how to do it.

How to Treat A Cut 

It’s common for children to get scrapes and cuts from time to time—that’s par for the course for an active child. The most important thing to remember when treating these is the importance of keeping the area clean to prevent infection, how to stop bleeding, and how to know when medical attention might be required.

Cuts and Scrapes

Small cuts and scrapes can be treated easily at home. If there is bleeding, you can apply gentle pressure to the area to get the bleeding to stop. After this, wash your hands, wash the cut with soap and water if it’s dirty, apply antibiotic cream, and apply a bandage to the area. If the bleeding is profuse or doesn’t dissipate after about five minutes of pressure, call your pediatrician or 911.

Bruises

If your child received a bump to their body (bumps at the heads are a different thing and will be covered separately) and they are sporting a bruise, you can apply cold packs to decrease any swelling. Call your pediatrician if the swelling doesn’t decrease and to ask whether pain medication might be appropriate for your child.

Deep Wounds and Puncture Wounds

If your child is experiencing a deep wound (a large gap in the skin) or if their skin has been punctured by an object, you will likely need to take them to the doctor for stitches and possibly a tetanus shot to reduce infection. While you wait for medical attention, apply pressure on the wound to stop bleeding, and wash your hands thoroughly and/or wear non-latex gloves when you are caring for the wound.

How to Treat An Insect Or Animal Bite 

It’s never fun, but it’s likely that at some point in your child’s life, they will be bitten by an insect or an animal. Many insect bites and stings are uncomfortable but relatively innocuous; animal bites almost always require medical follow-up.

Stings

If your child gets stung and the stinger is still lodged in their skin, you need to remove it. The Academy of American Pediatrics (AAP) recommends removing it with “a scraping motion using a firm item (such as the edge of a credit card).” You can use cold compresses to decrease swelling and pain. Ask your pediatrician about over-the-counter pain medication and proper dosing for your child.

Bug Bites

Most bug bites are simply itchy and uncomfortable. If your child seems very uncomfortable or the bites are unusually swollen, talk to your doctor about ointments that might help as well as over-the-counter antihistamines. Spider bites necessitate a call to your pediatrician or poison control (1-800-222-1222). If your child gets bitten by a tick, remove the tick with a tweezer, and put it in a ziplock bag. If your child develops a rash or fever after the tick bite, take them to the pediatrician—and bring the bag with the tick in it so that your pediatrician can identify the tick.

Identifying Allergies from Insect Bites and Stings

Occasionally, a child will have an allergic reaction to a sting or bite. Symptoms may include hives, rashes, and swelling. Call your doctor if your child has any of these symptoms. If your child is exhibiting labored breathing, vomiting, and loss of consciousness in addition to these symptoms, call 911. These are signs of a serious allergic reaction and require emergency medical care. 

Animal Bites

If your child is bitten by an animal, you will need to visit the doctor to make sure your child doesn’t need a tetanus or rabies vaccine. If your child is bitten by a snake and you don’t know what kind of snake bit your child, you should visit the emergency room, as the snake may be poisonous.

How to Treat a Bump on the Head

A light bump to the head is usually not an issue for a child. If your child bumps their head, doesn’t lose consciousness, and develops a slight bruise (or goose-egg), you should be a watchful eye on your child, and contact your pediatrician with any concerns. But in all likelihood, your child is fine.

However, a strong blow to the head, or any head bumps that are followed by concerning behavior, may be considered medical emergencies. Here’s what to look for.

Call your pediatrician right away if your child:

  • Is unusually drowsy
  • Can’t be woken from sleep
  • Is vomiting
  • Complains of a headache
  • Seems generally disoriented or out of sorts

Call 911 or visit the emergency room if your child:

  • Loses consciousness right after a head injury
  • Experiences a seizure
  • Seems suddenly uncoordinated
  • Can’t move a part of their body
  • Has slurred speech
  • Has water or blood coming out of their ears or nose

If your child has experienced a serious head, neck, or back injury, do not move your child. Call 911 and wait for emergency services to come and assess the situation.

How to Treat Nosebleeds

Nosebleeds are common in childhood and usually look scarier than they are. If your child has a sudden nosebleed but seems otherwise fine, have them tilt their head forward a bit, and apply gentle pressure to the nose area by squeezing both nostrils together between your thumb and forefinger. Don’t let your child blow their nose. Call your pediatrician or visit the emergency room if the bleeding doesn’t stop after 5-10 minutes or if the bleeding is profuse.

How to Treat a Burn

Children do experience burns at times, often from encountering hot or boiling water or hot objects, such as hot irons. The first thing you need to do in these situations is remove your child from the object or substance. You can run cool water over the burn to soothe the pain. Applying ice or other substances is not recommended. Burns with blisters and burns that are deep or very large may require medical care.

What to Do If Your Child Faints

Watching a child faint can be a very scary experience. The first thing you should do is to check your child’s pulse and airway to make sure they are breathing. If they aren’t breathing, perform CPR if you know it, and/or call 911. Sometimes children who faint will vomit; if so, tilt the child on their side so that they don’t choke. In addition, raise their feet above their heart level, which is about 12 inches.

What to Do If Your Child Has a Seizure

If your child is seizing or convulsing, move them away from any objects or furniture that might cause injury. Make sure they have nothing in their mouth, and turn them on their side. Perform CPR if your child is having trouble breathing. Call 911 if the seizure lasts more than five minutes, or if this is the first time your child is having a seizure.

What to Do If Your Child Gets a Fracture or Sprain

If you think your child has experienced a fracture or sprain, gently wrap the area in a cloth or towel. Don’t try to straighten it out or make your own brace or splint. Apply cold compresses to it and seek medical care.

Fractures and sprains are very common in childhood. It can be difficult to distinguish between a bone fracture and a sprain so it’s important to visit your pediatrician to get an X-ray. Your doctor will also treat the fracture or sprain, set it in a cast, sling, or brace, and give you a treatment plan.

What to Do If Your Child Has Ingested a Poisonous Substance

If you think your child has ingested, inhaled, or touched a poisonous substance, call Poison Control (1-800-222-1222). This is confidential and free service that is available 24/7. If your child has ingested a poisonous substance, do not try to remove it or make your child vomit. Flush contaminated skin with water. If your child seems unwell, lethargic, disoriented, or is having trouble breathing, call 911 immediately.

How to Identify and Treat Allergic Reactions

Children can have allergic reactions to foods, insect stings and bites, medications, latex, pets, mold, dust, pollen, grass, trees, and more. Although allergies tend to run in families, you never know if your child may develop an allergic reaction, so it’s important to know the signs.

Signs of allergic reactions in children may include:

  • Hives
  • Rash
  • Swelling of the face and mouth
  • Wheezing
  • Sneezing, sniffling, and watery eyes
  • Coughing
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting

Some allergic reactions aren’t harmful but can make your child very uncomfortable. These types of reactions can be discussed with a pediatrician or pediatric allergist at a later date. However, if your child is exhibiting signs of anaphylaxis, you must seek emergency care.

Sign of allergic anaphylaxis include:

  • Labored breathing
  • Vomiting/diarrhea
  • Fainting
  • Loss of consciousness

What to Do If Your Child Is Choking

If your child has choked on something but is able to cough, talk, and remains conscious, you don’t need to intervene. Coughing is actually a good sign and it allows your child to dislodge the item from their airway. You shouldn’t reach into their mouth and try to retrieve the object. Try to remain calm, as your child can pick up on your anxiety.

If your child is not able to breathe (you can’t see the chest moving up and down), they aren’t coughing, they can’t talk, or they begin to turn blue, you should perform CPR, if you know it. If you don’t know CPR, you should call 911 immediately or call out for help from someone who knows CPR.

Most adults can perform a basic Heimlich maneuver even if they haven’t been trained in CPR. The Heimlich maneuver is meant for children over the age of one. Here’s how to do it, according to the Academy of American Pediatrics (AAP):

  • Make your hand in a fist, and cover it with your other hand
  • Place your hands in the area right above your child’s naval
  • Thrust until the object is released from your child’s airway

What to Have In Your First Aid Kit

Besides familiarizing yourself with basic first aid practices and attending a CPR class when available, you should prepare a first aid kit to keep with you at home. You can also have a pared-down “to go” first aid kit to keep in your car with you out and about. Make sure to take your first aid kit on vacation too.

Here are some item to consider adding to your kit:

  • Antiseptic wipes
  • Non-latex gloves
  • Antibiotic ointment such as bacitracin or Neosporin
  • Bandaids in various sizes and shapes
  • Gauze pads
  • Roller gauze bandage
  • Medical tape
  • Tweezers
  • Cold compresses
  • Thermometer
  • Doctor-approved pain medication for children (check with your doctor for dosages)
  • Antihistamines for children
  • Hand sanitizer
  • A basic first aid manual

Your “to go” first aid can be a scaled down version of this with Bandaids, hand sanitizer, and antiseptic wipes. Remember to always keep any medication your child needs on hand when you are out, especially medications that are used in emergencies such as asthma medications and EpiPens.

A Word from Verywell

It’s very helpful to get educated before you find yourself in any type of emergency situation with your child. It’s also important to take a preventative approach. That means childproofing your home and supervising your children at all times. Still, even the most educated and careful parents encounter situations they are unprepared for. In these cases, parental instinct is a mighty thing—go with your gut in terms of protecting your child. And when in doubt, seek medical attention. There is never any harm in doing so.

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  1. Healthy Children. First Aid Guide for Parents & Caregivers. Updated January 5, 2017.

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