Growth Curve | Science News

Love Science? Welcome Home.

Support Amazing Science Journalism.

Create the New Science Generation.

Growth Curve

The inexact science of raising kids

Laura Sanders

Growth Curve


Growth Curve

Don’t cocoon a kid who has a concussion

By limiting kids’ actions, well-intentioned parents may be slowing recovery

doctor examining teen who had concussion

Pediatric neurologist Christopher Giza of UCLA examines a 14-year-old after she experienced a concussion. Most parents would overly restrict their child’s activities, a new survey suggests, perhaps delaying recovery.  

Sponsor Message

Concussions, particularly those among children playing sports, are on parents’ minds. The fervor over NFL players’ brains and those of other elite athletes has trickled all the way down to mini-kicker soccer teams and peewee football leagues. And parents are right to be worried. Concussions seem to be on the rise. From 1990 to 2014, the rate of concussions in youth soccer players jumped by over 1,000 percent, a recent study estimated.   

This increase might be driven in part by more inclusive definitions of concussion, a common form of traumatic brain injury that can come with headaches, confusion and memory trouble.  More awareness might also drive numbers up; because parents, coaches and referees are more alert to the possibility of a concussion, more kids might be getting the diagnosis. But games may have become more competitive, too, leading to more body clashes that jolt the brain.

When a kid gets concussed, the instinct of many parents, myself included, is to cocoon their child, limiting social interaction, activity and even sleep, a recent poll conducted by researchers at UCLA suggests. The survey asked about 500 parents about how they would handle a child who had symptoms a week after a concussion. Eighty-four percent of the respondents said they would restrict their child’s physical activity for the week after the injury, 62 percent said they would take away their child’s  electronics and 77 percent said they’d even wake their child up during the night. But those measures “can certainly be unhelpful,” says pediatric neurologist Christopher Giza of UCLA. “There’s some evidence it may be harmful.”

Giza points out that each child is unique, and the recovery process ought to be tailored by his or her medical team to best help the individual. But in general, excessive rest and isolation might work against kids. Last year, scientists found that children and teenagers who strictly rested for five days reported more symptoms than those who rested for one to two days. What’s more, recovery took longer for the kids who got the five-day break. 

Complete isolation and rest may cause children to grow anxious and despondent, Giza says. With their normal routines interrupted, they may focus more on their symptoms. Social interactions, even those that come via a screen, may help kids feel better sooner. Gentle exercise, such as walks and swimming, is also a good thing. And despite what parents may have heard, children with concussions need sleep to recover. “Waking the kid up every few hours only worsens symptoms,” Giza says. It’s not surprising that a week of poor sleep can dial up fatigue, irritability and slow thinking.

There is one very important limit that should still be respected for kids recovering from concussions: No more head knocks. Concussions in quick succession can be extra pernicious for the brain. That means kids shouldn’t return to any sport that puts them at risk for a second concussion until they are fully recovered. In a concussion’s aftermath, reflexes are blunted, balance may be off and thinking may be slow, Giza says. Those deficits put children at more risk for getting hit.

Some sports leagues have begun changing their rules to make the game safer. This season, 5- to 10-year-olds playing in a Pop Warner football game, for instance, will no longer have kickoffs, a game-starting play responsible for an inordinate amount of concussions. Game tweaks like that, along with more vigilant coaches and parents, will help protect these little brains.

Health

Maybe you don’t need to burp your baby

By Laura Sanders 9:26am, September 15, 2016
Everybody does it. But burping babies after a meal may not cut down on crying or spit-ups, a study suggests.
Health

Doctors need better ways to figure out fevers in newborns

By Laura Sanders 12:54pm, September 2, 2016
When a very young baby gets a fever, doctors scramble to figure out the cause. A new type of test may ultimately help identify whether the culprit is bacterial or viral.
Health,, Science & Society

Tired parents don’t always follow sleep guidelines for babies

By Laura Sanders 8:00am, August 23, 2016
Night videos revealed parents putting their babies to bed in unsafe environments.
Science & Society,, Health

Keep it simple when choosing a sunscreen for your kid

By Laura Sanders 7:00am, August 14, 2016
For parents swimming in a sea of sunscreen choices, look for a few key attributes.
Health,, Immune Science,, Human Development

Nail-biting and thumb-sucking may not be all bad

By Laura Sanders 3:00pm, July 20, 2016
Nail-biters and thumb-suckers may actually be warding off allergies by introducing germs to their mouths, a new study suggests.
Human Development,, Neuroscience

Moms’ voices get big reactions in kids’ brains

By Laura Sanders 7:00am, June 13, 2016
Mothers’ voices get big responses in kids’ brains, a neural reaction that may lead to feelings of calm.
Psychology,, Human Development

Researchers face off over whether newborns are really copycats

By Bruce Bower 7:00am, May 24, 2016
Scientists disagree about whether babies can imitate movements and facial expressions shortly after birth.
Health

Here are a few more things for the childproofing list

By Laura Sanders 2:30pm, May 13, 2016
Some seemingly safe objects may be particularly dangerous for little kids.
Human Development,, Health

Here’s some slim science on temper tantrums

By Laura Sanders 9:00am, April 22, 2016
Scientists have mapped the structure of toddlers’ tantrums, but preventives are hard to come by.
Health,, Human Development,, Biomedicine

Should C-section babies get wiped down with vagina microbes?

By Laura Sanders 4:21pm, March 30, 2016
A study suggests that a post-birth rubdown with vaginal fluid offers starter microbes to babies born by C-section. But it might not always be a good idea.
Subscribe to RSS - Growth Curve