Traumatic Brain Injuries in Children: Short- and Long-Term Consequences and Best Treatment Options

Traumatic brain injuries (TBI) account for 30% of all injury deaths in the United States, and survivors can face life-long effects.[1] While the last article posted on our blog focused on the causes and warning signs of traumatic brain injuries in children, we now turn to the effects of TBIs, both short-term and long-term. After outlining the possible repercussions faced by children who have suffered a TBI, we’ll detail what actions can be taken to ensure they are given the best opportunities possible to recover successfully.


Short-Term Consequences

Because TBIs change the levels of brain chemicals, it usually takes about a week before these levels stabilize again, though recovery time can vary.[2] Here are some of the more common complications that may immediately follow a TBI but will ultimately subside after a few days, weeks, or months:

  • Post-traumatic headaches can be experienced within a week to a few months after a brain injury[3]
  • Post-traumatic vertigo, or the sensation of spinning or dizziness, may be experienced for days, weeks, or even months after a brain injury[4]
  • Memory and reasoning might be delayed
  • Emotional instability, including signs of depression, anxiety, aggression, or acting out, may be apparent
  • Ability to concentrate mentally and physically on a task might be compromised


Long-Term Consequences

With an adult who has suffered a TBI, impairments in judgment, reasoning, and information processing are typically apparent within the months following the injury. However, for young children, the cognitive impairments that can come from a severe TBI might not be clear until the child is older and faces increased cognitive and social expectations.[5] Here are some of the effects that a TBI can have on children years after the incident takes place:

  • Development of behavioral problems which may affect school performance.[6] As they age, the ability to learn more complex, socially appropriate behavior might be more difficult for a child who previously suffered a TBI.[7]
  • Impaired cognitive abilities, memory, and attention span. In one study, children who suffered moderate to severe TBIs scored lower on IQ tests by about 7 to 10 points.[8] Children with mild to moderate brain injuries are also two times more likely to develop attention problems, and those with severe injuries are five times more likely to develop ADHD.[9]
  • Memory, coordination, and general ability to focus may be stinted due to a severe brain injury.[10]
  • The risk for conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and other brain disorders are increased.[11]
  • Premature mortality, psychiatric inpatient admission, violent offenses, and low educational attainment are all consistently predicted by studies.[12]


How to Treat a TBI

In order to reduce the chances of serious effects following a TBI, the following steps should be followed:

  • Seek medical attention immediately: In order to determine how serious a TBI is, a health care professional should be consulted as soon as it is suspected that a child has suffered an injury. Early family response is linked with better long-term outcomes for children who have suffered TBIs.[13]
  • Promote effective parenting: Studies have found that the home environment has a powerful influence on recovery; children with severe TBIs in optimal environments may show few effects of their injuries, but children from disadvantaged or chaotic homes often demonstrate persistent problems.[14] Family problem-solving treatment has been shown to reduce behavior problems in older children with TBIs[15]
  • Take the time to get better: After a traumatic incident, the brain needs time to heal. Activities that involve a lot of concentration, including studying, playing video games, or working on the computer should be limited.[16] Children and teens who have suffered a TBI should never participate in sports or recreation activities on the same day the injury occurred, and returning to such an activity should be delayed until a health care professional determines it is okay for them to return.[17] Such activities include PE class, sports practices or games, and physical activity at recess.
  • Ensure support at school is available: The child’s teachers, coach, and counselor should be consulted if their TBI has resulted in their absence or prevents them from keeping up with schoolwork. They might feel frustrate or isolated, and should be offered rest breaks as needed, spend fewer hours at school, and be given more time to complete tests and assignments.[18]


Though it’s not always possible to prevent TBIs, preventing some of the worst possible outcomes is often possible. Knowing what’s at stake and what actions you can take can help ensure the best lives for children who have suffered traumatic brain injuries.


[1] “TBI: Get the Facts,”, Apr. 27, 2017, html

[2] “Concussion: Symptoms and Causes,”, n.d.,

[3] Ibid

[4] Ibid

[5] “Brain Injury in Children,” Brain Injury Association of America, 2015,

[6] Hawley, Carol A, “Behaviour and School Performance After Brain Injury,”, 2004,

[7] “Brain Injury in Children”

[8] Gordon, Serena, “Severe Brain Injury When Young May Have Long-Term Effects,”,  Jan. 23, 2012,

[9] “Studies uncover long-term effects of traumatic brain injury,” Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, Feb. 10, 2017,

[10] Stone, Paul, “Even ‘Mild’ Childhood TBI Can Have Long-Term Effects,”, Aug. 25, 2016,

[11] “What are the Potential Effects of TBI?”, June 14, 2017

[12] Ibid

[13] “Studies uncover long-term effects”

[14] Ibid

[15] Ibid

[16] “Heads Up: Fact Sheet for Parents,”, n.d.,

[17] Ibid

[18] Ibid