A Parent’s Guide to Sports-Related Concussion: Prevention & Safety Tips


A concussion is a form of mild traumatic brain injury which can be caused by any impact to or forceful movement of the head. Though it is considered a “mild” TBI, concussions are very serious—especially for children and young adults whose brains (up until their early 20s) are still developing and therefore are more susceptible to long-term damage.

While sports benefit kids’ development in a number of ways, they also pose the greatest risk for concussions in young people. That’s why it is essential that parents, coaches, trainers, and young athletes themselves take all possible precautions to avoid injury, as well as understand signs, symptoms, and treatments in the event a concussion is sustained.

5 Ways to Help Prevent Sports-Related Concussions

  1. Ensure your child has the proper equipment. 
    Before your child begins playing, check that they have the appropriate gear—especially a helmet. In addition to being sport-specific, a helmet should be: 

    • The right size and fit
    • Certified by the appropriate association: NOCSAE or ASTM
    • Replaced when damaged or outdated (Standard recommendation is to replace after about 5 years, unless damaged earlier.)
  2. Ensure your child is playing in a safe environment.
    Falls are the most common cause of concussion in sports. To reduce fall risk, make sure all practice and game areas are ready for play: fields should be hole- and rut-free, and courts should be level and free of cracks or bumps. Additionally, the risk of injury can be limited by avoiding unnecessarily hard surfaces like concrete, and instead playing only on softer surfaces like grass fields, tracks, and wooden courts.
  3. Ensure your child knows the rules and proper sports techniques for avoiding injury.
    Though safety techniques should be taught by your child’s coach, you can help by ensuring they understand their coach’s instructions and by teaching them the basics before they begin. For example, the head-up technique helps athletes avoid unnecessary helmet-to-helmet contact, and using the forehead rather than the crown helps ensure a safe headbutt in soccer.
  4. Ensure that all coaches and referees are following proper procedures,  like:
    • Enforcing the rules and gear-wearing for all players
    • Teaching and reinforcing the importance of safe playing techniques
    • Practicing on safe grounds, accompanied by someone who is trained in injury response
    • Incorporating muscle training of the shoulders and neck
  5. If you see your child get hit in the head or otherwise injured while playing, ensure they are immediately removed from the game.Once removed from the game, make sure your child gets checked for a concussion by a qualified athletic trainer or school nurse; and if necessary, take them to the hospital. 

How do I know if my child has a concussion?

A person does not need to lose consciousness to have sustained a concussion, and their symptoms may not set in right away. That is why, if your child has been hit in the head, it’s important to observe them closely for at least 48 hours.

Young children may have trouble communicating their symptoms. They may only manage things like, “I don’t feel right” or act out more than usual. Additionally, older youth may intentionally choose not to report their symptoms in response to social or performance pressures, like letting down their team or missing college opportunities.

For these reasons, it is especially important to know the signs and symptoms of a concussion. If you are concerned that your child is refusing or struggling to convey their symptoms, here are some things you can look for:

  • Slowed reaction times
  • An inconsistent gait
  • A sudden change in habits
  • Loss of Interest in usual activities
  • Irritability
  • Lethargy
  • Unreasonableness
  • Reclusiveness
  • Reports of behavioral, emotional, or cognitive changes from teachers or friends

What should I do if I suspect my child has a concussion?

If you suspect your child may have a concussion—whether or not symptoms are apparent—it’s best to get them seen by your doctor as soon as possible. If your child begins to exhibit any of the following symptoms, they should be taken to the hospital right away:

  • Loss of consciousness
  • Imbalance
  • Vomiting
  • Change in vision
  • Unequal pupils
  • Slurred speech
  • Confusion
  • Rapidly worsening symptoms

How can I treat my child’s concussion?

For the first 48 hours following injury, here are a few ways to ensure your child’s safety and support their healing process:

  • Keep a close eye: don’t leave your child alone, and check on them throughout the night.
  • Sleep is good! You don’t need to wake them throughout the night, but check that they are breathing and sleeping restfully.
  • Do not give your child aspirin or ibuprofen; opt for acetaminophen to manage headaches for the first 48 hours.
  • Help them rest: create a comfortable environment without bright lights or loud sounds, and discourage them from stimulating activities like using the computer, texting or scrolling through their phone, playing video games, or watching tv.
  • Help your child avoid physical and mental exertion, like homework: if they have homework, help them make a plan to talk with their teachers.
  • Don’t isolate your child entirely: minimal social contact, like talking with a friend or sitting with family is healthy.
  • Take your child to the doctor for a check-up.

A child’s recovery can take anywhere from minutes to months, depending on several factors like age, extent of impact, previous brain insults or injuries, and many other factors; and it can be difficult to know precisely when your child has fully recovered. Follow your doctor’s advice, and continue to observe your child until you see a consistent demonstration of their previous level of functioning.

Until then, here are some ways you can promote your child’s continued recovery:

  • Ensure that your child is equipped to communicate with teachers regarding missed tests or homework and that they are given the appropriate school accommodations. (This may involve an IEP or 504 Plan.)
  • Help your child achieve a balance between rest and pushing themselves.
  • If they are struggling to sleep, talk to your doctor about supplements or medications or take other measures to aid your child’s sleep.
  • Notice when your child is experiencing emotional overload or distress, and help them manage their emotions.

A good rule of thumb is that your child should be symptom-free for one week and demonstrate significant progress toward their usual cognitive and physical activity levels before they return to play. Until then, they should not return to their sport and should avoid:

  • Excess screen time
  • Bright lights
  • Strobe lights at school dances or parties
  • Listening to loud music or music through headphones
  • Concerts
  • Pep rallies

While it is not possible to completely negate the risk of sports-related concussion, you can significantly reduce your child’s risk by practicing a few precautions, and you can further reduce the risk of lasting damage by understanding how to recognize and respond to a concussion.

While the Brain and Behavior Clinic does not work with kids under the age of 17, we seek to be a brain health resource for everyone.