How Do You Know if Your Child has a Serious Head Injury?


By Ashley Hale, LCSW – May 25, 2022 –

Most parents have experienced a time where their child fell and hit their head. Sometimes it is difficult to know whether you should take them to the emergency room for an evaluation.

How do you know if your child has a serious head injury? Let’s take a look at what can happen as the result of a traumatic brain injury (TBI).

Psychiatric symptoms and disorders are frequent after a traumatic brain injury. A TBI is usually the result of a violent blow or jolt to the head. A mild TBI can affect your brain cells temporarily. A more serious TBI can result in long-term complications.

Although there are many ways to acquire a TBI, the most common ways are falls, vehicle collisions, violence, sports injuries, and explosive blasts. Sports injuries are particularly common in youth. TBI can cause physical symptoms, sensory symptoms, and cognitive/behavioral/mental symptoms.

According to the Mayo Clinic, traumatic brain injuries have wide-ranging psychological effects. Some of the signs and symptoms may appear immediately, while others can emerge days or weeks later. 

Common TBI symptoms are listed below.

  1. Loss of consciousness for a few seconds to a few minutes
  2. Feeling dazed, confused, or disoriented
  3. Memory or concentration problems
  4. Mood changes or swings
  5. Feeling depressed or anxious
  6. Difficulty sleeping or sleeping more than usual
  7. Thoughts of suicide
  8. Agitation, combativeness, or other unusual behavior

Infant and young children’s symptoms are harder to communicate but may present in the following ways.

  • Change in eating or nursing habits
  • Unusual or easy irritability
  • Persistent crying and inability to be consoled
  • Change in ability to pay attention
  • Change in sleep habits
  • Seizures
  • Drowsiness
  • Loss of interest in favorite toys or activities

A brain injury can change the way people are able to feel or express their emotions. Some may begin to experience emotions more intensely. Some describe the experience as an “emotional rollercoaster.”

Why does this happen? Mood swings are often caused by damage to the part of the brain that controls emotions and behavior. Often there is no specific trigger, which can be confusing for the patient and family. In some cases, you may see sudden episodes of crying or laughing, and usually the emotional expression does not match the situation.

I have seen students with TBI become very anxious, lack focus, and appear unorganized. I have also seen students who displayed no psychiatric symptoms prior to their TBI verbalize suicidal thoughts.  

Always seek emergency medical care if you or your child has received a head injury. Fortunately, mild concussion symptoms often improve after the first few months. It’s important to speak with a doctor if you are having problems controlling emotions after a TBI.

Counseling can be reassuring and allow the patient and family to cope better daily.  There are also medications that can help improve or stabilize moods. Family members can help by trying to remain calm during emotional outbursts rather than reacting negatively. Acknowledge their feelings and give them a chance to safely share them. Take them to a quiet place to help them regain control or gently redirect them.