Older child holding his head in his hands Concussions are a type of mild traumatic brain injury. While learning your child has one can be overwhelming and scary, you can guide your child to a full recovery by proactively engaging with their healthcare provider, school administration, teachers, and coaches at the time of diagnosis and throughout the recovery period.

Christina L. Master, MD, a pediatric sports medicine specialist at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) and a brain injury expert who co-directs CHOP’s Minds Matter Concussion Program, has treated countless concussions and offers the following advice for parents.

What to do when your child has a concussion

Alert the school

Upon receiving your child’s concussion diagnosis, it’s important to contact your child’s school as soon as possible about your child’s injury. This will allow the school to begin making the necessary adjustments to promote your child’s healthy recovery.

Recognize the symptoms of concussion

Every child’s concussion is unique, with a different range of symptoms and also different severities for each symptom.

“This influences your child’s recovery trajectory, so it’s helpful to stay attuned to your child’s symptoms and some may find it helpful to track them over the first few days,” says Dr. Master. A concussion symptom log may be used to mark progress with symptoms to share with your physician.

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This information will help you and the physician gradually return your child to activities during each stage in the recovery process. Keeping track of your child’s concussion symptoms can also alert you and your physician to any lingering concussion symptoms, which should be addressed.

It’s also important to help your child recognize if an activity significantly worsens symptoms, so your child learns to adjust and manage the symptoms for every stage of recovery. Mild symptom provocation that can be managed with pacing breaks is expected during recovery, but avoiding severe symptom exacerbation is recommended.

Tailor “return to learn” and “return to play” plans to your child’s unique situation

At the time of diagnosis, talk with your child’s physician about activity modifications and the gradual reintroduction of learning and physical activities once symptoms have decreased.

“The road to recovery can take days or weeks depending on your child’s symptoms,” explains Dr. Master, “but early relative rest and a guided gradual return to activities is critical to achieving a healthy recovery.”

  • Returning to school after a concussion: Make a “return to learn” plan to go back to school. These plans may be tailored according to the specific symptoms and needs of each student. The school should be prepared to make adjustments to create a smooth and successful transition. At this stage in your child’s concussion recovery, the goals for school are rehabilitative and recovery-oriented, not the usual academically-oriented goals for academic achievement.

Temporary academic adjustments to take academic pressure off injured students may include adapting the classroom and academic workload to match your child’s recovery. For example, children may need to initially return for a partial day of school or take frequent breaks during the day with a reduced workload and then gradually increase time and workload as cognitive stamina recovers.

  • Returning to sports after a concussion: If your child also participates in sports, it’s important to follow a return to play plan to further promote recovery and to prevent re-injury. These plans can also be tailored according to each child’s symptom profile and stage of recovery. Physical activity can be helpful in promoting recovery, but your child should not participate in activities that involve the risk for another concussion.

Stay alert to mental health and wellness

“During the recovery process, your child may feel frustrated and even anxious or depressed by the limitations they are experiencing in learning, social activities, and athletics due to the concussion,” says Dr. Master. These feelings may be amplified by the concussion itself, so it is critical to monitor your child’s mood and offer support while making your physician aware of any major concerns.

CHOP clinicians and researchers have found that initial relative rest, followed by a guided gradual return to activity, including academics and physical activity and athletics, is the best strategy for concussion recovery. By following these steps, you can successfully guide your child to a full recovery.

Read more about concussion care for parents.

Read more about the do’s and don’ts of concussion care.

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