Essential Emergency First Aid Skills For Parents

I am not a medical professional. I do, however, have a decade of experience working with children, as well as experience raising my own pair of clumsy kiddos. Generally, I am of the opinion that if it isn't broken, bleeding profusely, or obviously deformed, they'll probably be all right—especially if they're more concerned about the ice cream they dropped than the actual injury. But, there are some circumstances for which first aid training is necessary and essential. Most community centers have cheap or free first aid classes specific to children and infants. Remember that as the grown up (and I use that term loosely around my house), your kids look to you for comfort and reassurance when something serious happens. Make sure that you can spring into action like a superhero when the time comes.

1. Teach your kid to recognize danger

In an article I read from our local newspaper, a child was hit by a car in front of his house. Thankfully, he survived with few injuries. When interviewed about what happened, the child's mother said something along the lines of, "He didn't know not to run into the street because he usually plays in the backyard." The first step in treating childhood injuries is to prevent them! Teach your kid to look both ways before crossing the street, not to run with scissors, to always wear a helmet when riding their bike, etc. The urge to nag your children comes from the evolution of parenthood. Teach them to pay attention to their surroundings and to think about their actions. Eventually, they'll get it, and you won't have to be a helicopter parent anymore.

2. Be prepared

Because you never know when an emergency might happen, it's a good idea to make sure to always have a good first aid kit available at home and in your car. Store bought ones are the most convenient and usually come in a nifty case, but if you're like me and enjoy putting things together yourself, be sure to include the following items recommended by the Red Cross:

  • 2-3 absorbent compress dressings
  • 25+ Band-Aids in assorted sizes
  • 2+ triangular bandages
  • Adhesive cloth tape
  • Antibiotic ointment
  • Hydrocortisone ointment
  • Antiseptic wipes
  • Space blanket
  • Breathing barrier
  • Aspirin
  • 1-2 instant cold compresses
  • 2+ pairs of non-latex gloves
  • Scissors
  • 1-2 roller bandages
  • 5+ medium sterile gauze pads
  • 5+ large sterile gauze pads
  • Oral thermometer
  • Tweezers

3. Scrapes and Cuts

Minor cuts and scrapes are probably the most common childhood injuries. We all remember having a Band-Aid or two on our knees as kids. First aid for a small cut or scrape is fairly simple.

First, wash your hands or use hand sanitizer if there are no gloves available—you don’t want to be the reason your kiddo gets some sort of infection and has to have that whole leg amputated. Seriously, how guilty would you feel?

Next, stop the bleeding and clean the area. Usually, the body's natural clotting will stop the bleeding fairly quickly. If necessary, use an absorbent compress to stop the bleeding (but if the wound squirts blood or won't stop bleeding, get medical help right away). Rinse the wound and surrounding area with cool, clean water. Use mild soap to wash the surrounding area, but not the wound itself.

Then, assess the wound. Call the doctor if the wound was caused by a human or animal bite, has debris in it, or the injured area feels numb. Go to an urgent care facility if the wound is jagged, deep, or does not stay closed because stitches may be necessary.

If the wound does not need medical care, apply a thin layer of antibiotic ointment, and cover with a Band-Aid to protect it from debris and germs. Change the bandage at least once per day and watch for signs of infection such as redness, swelling, and pain.

4. Burns

Burns can be especially dangerous to children. You can prevent the risk of burns in your home by making sure fire alarms are working properly, setting the water heater temperature to low/medium (120F or lower), and covering all electrical outlets within your child's reach.

Treatment of burns depends on the severity: For all burns, immediately stop the burn and remove any constricting clothing or jewelry as burns can swell quickly.

First-degree burn (redness, swelling):

  • Cool the burn using cool water or cold compress
  • Cover loosely with non-adhesive bandage
  • Give over-the-counter pain reliever as needed
  • Second-degree burn (redness, blistering, swelling):
  • Apply cool water, do not use ice or cold compress
  • Do not break blisters
  • Cover loosely with non-adhesive bandage
  • Prevent shock by laying them on their back and elevating feet
  • Consult a doctor

Third-degree burn (affects all layers of skin, patches of charred black, brown or gray skin):

  • Call 911
  • Do not apply ice or water
  • Cover burn loosely with sterile non-adhesive bandage separating fingers and toes with bandage
  • Prevent shock by laying them on their back and elevating feet

5. Fever

Kids love to share germs! And, as we all know, germs lead to infections, which lead to fevers. Depending on the age and size of a child, a mild fever is common and can often be treated at home with over-the-counter medication and offering cool fluids to drink.

However, when a child's fever is prolonged and reaches a high enough level, you risk serious damage and even seizure. When Evyn was two years old, she went through a period of recurring ear infections and sudden high fevers that would not respond to over the counter medication. One of which caused a febrile seizure (at a temp of 104.4F) and led to a five-day stay at Rady's Children's Hospital and surgery on both ears.

If you notice that your child has a mild fever, contact your pediatrician and be sure to watch for any spikes in temperature. Go directly to the emergency room if your child is limp or unresponsive, has a seizure, is vomiting and has a stiff neck or headache, or is dehydrated due to vomiting or diarrhea.

6. Choking

The scariest moment in my life as a new mommy happened when my first was only four months old. In my sleep-deprived clueless new mommy state of mind, I took some well-meaning advice from a neighbor and offered my teething baby a frozen celery stalk to nibble on. Needless to say, as soon as it defrosted, she bit a big ol' chunk off that thing and immediately started choking. I panicked, roughly pulling her out of the high chair, which knocked loose the dime sized piece, and she spit it out. I signed up for infant CPR and emergency first aid that day.

For a great step-by-step guide with images, visit:

7. Child and infant CPR

The best way to learn child and infant CPR is to take a hands-on class with a certified instructor. Certified instructors will have child and baby mannequins to practice with, as well as tips and suggestions should you have any concerns. I am not a certified CPR instructor and am only listing the steps below in brief for reference. If your child is unresponsive:

  • Call 911
  • A - Airway: Open airway and check for signs of breathing
  • B - Breaths: If the child isn't breathing, give two rescue breaths keeping in mind that the child's lungs are much smaller than yours
  • C - Compressions: Using 2-3 fingers in the center of the chest below the nipples, give 30 chest compressions while counting out loud
  • Repeat rescue breaths and compressions until help arrives or child begins to breathe on his/her own

8. Head injuries

As adorable as our little ones are, their head to body ratio makes it near impossible not to topple over in their toddler years, and as their body tries to catch up with their head they seem to get clumsier and clumsier! So being ready to handle head injuries is another essential skill. The scary thing about head injuries is that a child may seem fine but still have a serious situation brewing in their little noggin. *If your child is under one year old, any head injury should prompt immediate medical care.

First, care for any wounds to the scalp or face appropriately and watch for the following signs, which should prompt you to contact your child's doctor immediately:

  • Neck pain
  • Prolonged crying
  • A large dent in the skull or a lot of swelling
  • Vomiting several times
  • Isn't crying, but has clear fluid coming from the ear or nose
  • Blurry vision
  • Bad headache
  • Memory loss
  • Fell from a height greater than 3 feet
  • Was struck in the head by an object traveling at high speed

9. Poisoning

If you suspect that your child has eaten something toxic, call Poison Control immediately at (800) 222-1222. They will be able to instruct you on how to best care for your child.

10. When to call 911

  • Your child has been burned through all layers of the skin or the skin looks charred with white, brown or black patches
  • Your child is having trouble breathing and is turning blue
  • There has been a car accident, and your child is unconscious or seriously injured
  • Your child is having a seizure that lasts 3-5 minutes, is having difficulty breathing, or is turning blue
  • Your child loses consciousness or is not responsive
  • Your child might have a neck or spine injury
  • Your child has a head injury with a loss of consciousness, persistent vomiting, or is not responding normally
  • After a head injury, your child seems confused, has slurred speech, and seems off balance or vomits
  • Your child fell from a height greater than 3 feet or has a visible deformity
  • Your child has significant uncontrolled bleeding or blood that squirts from the wound
  • Your child has a possible poisoning and is not responding normally or is having difficulty breathing (in any possible poisoning, call Poison Control (1-800-222-1222) for expert advice and they may direct you to the ER)

For children, unintentional injuries are the leading cause of death and emergency medical intervention. By making sure you know how to prevent injuries and what to do in case of emergencies, you can allow your kids to learn and explore the world around them without sacrificing their safety. Contact your local Red Cross for more information by calling (800) 733-2767 (800-RED-CROSS).