Advise Me

What to Do If Your Child Takes a Serious Tumble or Fall

If you’ve been around children long enough, you know one thing for sure: they fall …a lot! From learning to walk to enjoying sports, children of all ages are bound to have a few spills along the way. 

Stumbles are to be expected, but more serious falls can lead to serious injuries, long-term disability and sometimes death. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), falls are one of the most common causes of childhood accidents. 

You want to let your child safely explore the world around them, but what if they have a serious fall from a great height – such as a highchair or chair, stairs or play equipment? We spoke with David Kipp, MD, a pediatrician with Banner Urgent Care, about what to do if your baby, child or teen has a serious fall and steps you can take to prevent serious falls altogether.

How do I know if the fall seriously injured my child?

Three factors can influence the seriousness of the fall:

  • The height your child falls from (chair, stairs, balcony, window, etc.)
  • What your child falls onto (concrete, carpet, gravel, etc.)
  • What your child may hit as they fall (furniture with sharp edges) 

Children between ages 1 and 3 are more likely to fall from stairs or steps, baby walkers, furniture or play equipment. Older children are more likely to fall at outdoor sporting grounds, on play equipment or from being pushed.

“Obviously, the greater the distance of the fall and the harder the impacting surface, the greater the likelihood of serious injury,” Dr. Kipp said. “However, each incident is different. Some children who fall from great distances have no serious injury, while other children fall off the couch onto the carpet and sustain fractures.”

What to do if your child has a serious fall

1. Assess the situation

Whenever your baby or child takes a serious tumble, you’ll need to check for bumps, bruises, cuts or swelling. Pay attention to areas like the head, neck and limbs (arms and legs), as these are common areas where injuries occur during a fall.

  • For older children: Ask them where it hurts and how the fall occurred if you did not see it happen. 
  • For infants and toddlers: If you witnessed the fall, look at the body part that made the first impact, as this will likely be the site of injury. 

If you didn’t witness the fall, undress them and look for redness, swelling and increased warmth. Use your finger to gently check for tenderness (crying or wincing) over each limb, belly (stomach), collarbone, neck, back and head.

2. Seek medical attention

If you are unsure whether your child broke a bone or a cut needs stitches or you are simply uncomfortable with the severity of their fall, it’s best to err on the side of caution and seek medical care. Contact your child’s health care provider or visit the nearest urgent care for further evaluation and treatment. 

Call 911 immediately if your child experiences any of the following:

  • Unable to move 
  • Unresponsive or unconscious
  • You suspect a head, neck or hip injury 
  • Bleeding that you are unable to stop
  • Problems breathing or isn’t breathing (start CPR if you know how to do so)
  • A seizure
  • Confusion or slurred speech

Unless there is an immediate danger, like a fire or ongoing threat, keep your child still until help arrives to prevent further injury.

3. Provide first aid

If you’ve ruled out a serious injury, you can treat your child’s fall at home. 

  • Clean minor cuts with warm water to remove dirt and gravel, and cover with antibiotic cream and a Band-Aid or bandage.
  • Wrap an ice pack with a cloth or towel and hold it on bumps to reduce swelling and pain. 
  • Give over-the-counter (OTC) medication (ibuprofen or acetaminophen) for pain if your child is alert. Never give your child aspirin, which can lead to rare but serious conditions like Reye’s syndrome.
4. Monitor for changes

Even if the injury seems minor, keep an eye on your child for any changes in their behavior or condition. 

If you notice your child has difficulty moving their limbs (arms, legs and neck) or favors one limb over the other, this could indicate an injury such as a break or fracture. Take them to see their health care provider or the nearest urgent care.

If your child becomes very sleepy or hard to wake up, is confused, vomits more than once or has frequent headaches and/or problems with balance or memory, this could indicate a head injury. Take them to the nearest emergency department

“Children need to be observed closely for several hours after a head injury, as bleeding and swelling of the brain sometimes develops slowly after the injury,” Dr. Kipp said.

Fall prevention

While accidents happen, there are steps you can take to reduce the risk of your child falling from a height:

  • Supervise: Always keep a close eye on your child, especially in areas where falls are more likely, like the playground or near staircases.
  • Childproof your home: For young children, install safety gates at the top and bottom of stairs, secure furniture to the wall to prevent tipping and use window guards and locks to prevent falls from windows. Do not place furniture or shelves near windows where small children may climb to see what is happening outside. Place the crib mattress at the lowest setting. Cushion sharp corners on furniture.
  • Use safety straps: Ensure small children are strapped into highchairs, car seats, shopping carts, changing tables, infant walkers and jumpers. Avoid walkers in houses with stairs.
  • Teach safe behavior: Educate your child about the importance of being careful when climbing, jumping or playing on elevated surfaces. Encourage them to use handrails and sit on beds or sofas instead of standing or jumping.
  • Provide proper equipment: Make sure your child always wears a helmet with bikes, scooters, skateboards, roller skates and motorbikes. Ensure playgrounds and play areas have safe surfacing, such as mulch or rubber matting, to cushion falls. Check play equipment before using to make sure it is secure.

Check out Banner Children’s Injury Prevention Program to learn more about injury and safety tips.


Falls are a normal part of childhood. Many times, they result in nothing more than a few tears and a Band-Aid. By staying calm, assessing the situation and knowing when to seek medical attention, you can help your child bounce back with ease. 

If you have questions or need medical advice, don’t hesitate to contact your child’s health care provider or a Banner Health specialist.

For more parenting tips, check out:

Safety Parenting Children's Health Emergency Urgent Care