After your child has been diagnosed as having a concussion the first step is to discuss the injury with your family and your child. The stress of the injury and the diagnosis can be difficult but convincing your child to allow his or her brain to “heal” can be even more difficult. Your child’s brain needs time to recover. This is a time when your child needs to avoid all physical activity beyond light walking and if light walking causes symptoms including headache, dizziness or vision changes then your child needs to avoid physical activity. Mental activity including television, movies, video games, text messaging and any activity beyond simply quieting the brain needs to be avoided. Spend time together listening to soft music or the sounds of nature. Consider reading to your child and helping them take several naps throughout the day and always pursue a restfull sleep for 9-10 hours each night. The sooner the recovery begins the faster the concussion symptoms will resolve. Any activity that prevents this recovery will cause the symptoms to last longer and possibly worsen.
Parents play the most important role in this recovery process. You have the relationship and capability to convince your child about the importance of rest and can intervene immediately if you see signs of anxiety or difficulty coping with injury sequellae. You know your child best. Even a trained eye can miss signs of mood, behavior or cognitive difficulty that you easily recognize. Speak up! Do not allow your child to return to activity before all symptoms have resolved. Seek help and advice and stay in close contact with your pediatrician.
Studies clearly show a concussion disrupts brain function and will only heal with time. Brain blood flow decreases after a concussion and this robs the brain of vital energy sources. Your brain relies on glucose for energy. In the days and weeks after a concussion it is as if someone blocked off several streets and you are unable to drive to the store. By decreasing activity and cognitive work load, more glucose is available for your brain to heal. This is the time when the brain is most vulnerable. It is as if you have left a bedroom window open on a cold and blustery winter day. You walk into the bedroom and feel a cold draft and know how hard your furnace has been working all day to keep up with the loss of energy. Don’t let this happen to your child’s brain.
Engage the whole family in this process. Sibs and friends need to understand the need for rest and a very gradual return to activity. These guidelines are called “return to learn and return to play” rules. Inform school staff and all who are involved in the caretaking of your child. This is a team effort and with time and patience the overwhelming majority of children recover fully within several weeks. If your child continues to have symptoms after 3 weeks of rest, has worsening symptoms or if he or she has a history of a prior concussions or an underlying neurologic problem including a seizure disorder, a migraine headache disorder, learning problems, ADHD or mental health problems then seek expert help and guidance.