Winter has arrived and your family might be looking forward to several fun activities winter has to offer, including ice skating, tobogganing, skiing, snowboarding and more. However, snow and ice also mean conditions ripe with the possibility of a fall.

What is a concussion?

A concussion is a mild brain injury. Concussions are typically the result of a fall or accident. Signs that your child has suffered a concussion might include fatigue, sensitivity to light and noise, difficulty with concentration, memory and learning, dizziness, headache, and vomiting. Most concussions do not require emergency services unless symptoms increase in severity (e.g., seizure, slurring of words) over the first few hours, in which case a trip to the hospital is necessary as it may indicate a more severe brain injury.

Symptoms of a concussion typically last a few days to a few months. There is not a good correlation between the severity of the hit and the severity or length of symptoms. In fact, even very minor hits to the head (e.g., falling down while walking) can lead to a concussion, while more dramatic circumstances (e.g., a car accident) can result in fewer symptoms. The factors that predict more severe and long-lasting symptoms are poorly understood. However, we do know that despite a person feeling and looking back to normal, they may still have slight cognitive inefficiencies that show us that it can take up to 2 years to fully recover.

This can explain why getting a second concussion within a two-year period after the first concussion can result in more severe symptoms and long-lasting effects. In extremely rare circumstances, a second concussion can cause the brain to lose its ability to regulate pressure which then triggers the brain to swell and get crushed against the skull resulting in death or severe impairment. ‘‘Second impact syndrome’’ highlights the importance of protecting your brain health in general, but even more after a concussion.

Protecting your child against concussions

  • Always ensure they wear a helmet when biking, skiing, roller skating or anything faster than running speed
  • Always ensure they wear a seatbelt, make sure your child seatbelt is adjusted to their height
  • Avoid extreme or ‘high concussion’ sports

My child has had a concussion. Now what? Here are a few tips to support brain healing:

  • Reduce sources of stress
  • Address mental health difficulties promptly
  • Participate in positive social relationships
  • Practice sleep hygiene
  • Eat a balanced diet
  • Exercise regularly
  • No alcohol, smoking, or drugs

Mental health, stress, and concussions

Concussions can reduce your child’s ability to deal with daily stress and affect their mental health. Concussion symptoms such as irritability and trouble with problem solving can make your child more vulnerable to stress. Although the exact link is still poorly understood, children who have had concussions are also more likely to experience suicidal ideation. Therefore reducing stressors and focusing on pacing can be beneficial. Pacing refers to becoming attuned to cognitive (mental) fatigue and ensuring that the child is never overexerting themselves (which can result in meltdowns or panic-like symptoms), but rather working at a steady and somewhat slower pace with plenty of breaks and rest.

A few articles if you want to learn more about concussions:

Recovery from Concussion | HEADS UP | CDC Injury Center

How Can I Help My Child Recover After a Concussion? | BrainLine

Long term outcome after traumatic brain injury – PMC (nih.gov)

Dr. Stephanie Leon

Dr. Leon is a clinical psychologist and neuropsychologist practicing in the province of Ontario and Quebec. She works with children, teens, and their parents to address emotional, behavioural, and cognitive difficulties.

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