The dos and don’ts of giving your child first aid in an emergency
When to perform First Aid: Your child has suffered a serious trauma, burn, poisoning, or other wound but is breathing, and you’ve already called 911.
What to Do:
Clean the wound with soap and water as best as you can, then apply direct, firm pressure with gauze or a clean cloth. If blood soaks through the gauze, don’t remove it; apply another gauze pad or cloth on top and continue applying pressure until help arrives. Elevate if you can.
Gently remove your child’s clothing from around the burn, but don’t attempt to take off any fabric that is stuck to the skin. Rinse the burn under cool (not cold) water if possible, then lightly apply a dry gauze bandage to the area (use a clean, soft towel or sheet for larger burns). For electrical burns, such as when a child puts a metal object into an outlet or bites on an electrical cord, don’t cool the burn with water; just cover it with gauze.
Suspect your child has a skull or spinal injury (she fell from a distance greater than her standing height, was involved in a car or bicycle accident, or is not fully alert)? Don’t move her unless she is in harm’s way. Stabilize her head, neck, and spine as best as you can until help arrives.
Call the poison control center (800-222-1222) immediately if you suspect your child ingested a toxic substance, even if you see no symptoms. If it’s in her eye, stream water in for 15 minutes and have her evaluated.
What NOT to Do:
Sometimes, knowing what not to do in an emergency is as important as knowing which steps to follow. “There’s a lot of misinformation out there about how to treat injuries, and parents trying to help can actually make the situation worse,” says Dr. Tsarouhas. Below, six things to avoid:
- DO NOT apply ice or any type of ointment — including butter, antibiotic salves, aloe, vitamin E oil, or moisturizing lotion — to a burn unless a doctor advises you to do so.
- DO NOT lance or pop any blisters that might form on a burn.
- DO NOT apply a tourniquet to any part of your child’s body to stop bleeding.
- DO NOT attempt to remove deeply embedded sharp objects, such as a nail or glass, from a wound.
- DO NOT give your child syrup of ipecac or activated charcoal after ingesting a toxic substance (or at any time).
- DO NOT encourage or induce your child to vomit after ingesting a toxic substance.
What to Remember:
“If you’re ever in doubt about whether or not an injury is serious, call 911,” says Dr. Tsarouhas. Don’t worry about “bothering” them, he stresses. “It’s their job, not yours, to assess what constitutes an emergency.”