Epilepsy in young children

Epilepsy in young children

Epilepsy Centre

Epilepsy in young children

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A seizure that ends normally after a minute or two is usually not hazardous to a child who has epilepsy. However, risks increase when the seizure happens near water, at heights, near traffic, or in any setting in which sudden loss of awareness could be dangerous.

Parents naturally want to protect a child who has this extra level of risk. However, excessive concern about risk may isolate children with epilepsy from others and reduce social interaction. The following information may help you strike a balance:

Water safety

Water can be a hazard to children with seizures, whether it is in a swimming pool, at the beach, or in the bathtub.

  • Supervise young children closely during bath time.
  • Have older children take showers, not baths.
  • Set water temperature low so a child won’t be scalded if consciousness is lost while hot water is running.
  • Hang bathroom doors so they open outwards, and remove locks.
  • Make sure shower and bath drains run quickly and are unobstructed.

Swimming and water sports

A child with epilepsy (or any young child) should never swim alone, or be on a boat or close to water (including backyard wading pools) without a flotation device or life jacket.

  • Carefully supervise children near water.
  • If you can’t be there, make sure an adult knows your child has epilepsy and can help if he or she has a seizure in the water.
  • Tell lifeguards or swimming instructors at local pools or beaches that your child has seizures.
  • If a child has a seizure in water, the child should be checked by a lifeguard or parent. If there is any possibility that water has been swallowed or breathed into the lungs, get a medical check-up.

Other sports

Unless your child’s doctor recommends otherwise, sports activities and other exercise are as beneficial to a child with epilepsy as they are to any other child.

  • Coaches and other officials should be aware that the child has seizures, and how the parents want them to be managed.
  • Safety measures such as harnesses, shock absorbing mats and adult supervision reduce risk.
  • Wearing safety helmets when riding a bicycle, or for sports where head injury is possible, reduces risk.

Seizures and school

Having seizures at school can be socially damaging to a child and frightening to others. However, it doesn’t have to be. A well-informed, confident teacher and a supportive school nurse (if available) and school administration can make all the difference in the world.

Take time to meet with your child’s teacher before the beginning of each school year to discuss how epilepsy affects your child, what type of seizures he or she has, and how you would like the teacher to handle the seizures when they occur.

Medication at school

If your child has to take medication during the day, check with the school about what arrangements should be made. Most school systems will arrange for the school nurse or a teacher to administer medication.

Aiding achievement

While many children with epilepsy test within the same range of intelligence as other children, their achievement at school may be lower.

There may be several reasons for this, including side-effects from the medication, days spent out of school for tests or doctor visits, and anxiety about having seizures at school. Memory or attention may also be affected.

After a seizure a child may be unable to remember anything that happened the previous day or immediately afterwards. Testing for learning disabilities may reveal specific difficulties related to where the seizures are occurring in the child’s brain.

Family issues

It may be helpful to talk with your other children about epilepsy, and encourage them to ask you questions about it. Siblings may blame themselves or feel abandoned and lonely.

Setting aside some special time for the other children in the family, and making time to answer their questions fully, should help.


Ignoring behaviour you don’t like (so long as no one is likely to get hurt by it) and rewarding good behaviour is as likely to work for children with epilepsy (as with other children). However, parents often worry that discipline, or emotional upset will cause a child to have a seizure. They may be tempted to give in to unreasonable demands from the child because of this natural concern. If this is something that happens in your family, find out how you can exert discipline in a way that is safe and reasonable.

Informing relatives

Informed, understanding relatives are a wonderful source of strength when a child has epilepsy. But some may have misguided beliefs about this condition. They may think it is somehow linked to mental illness (it isn’t), or someone’s fault (wrong), or is related to mental retardation (usually not), or is even a sign of spiritual possession (an old myth that unfortunately still lingers). Helping other family members understand the true nature of epilepsy as a medical condition affecting brain function will set these fears at rest.

Your commitment to helping your child live as normally and actively as his or her condition permits, and to treat your child as much as possible like any other child, will guide their response as well.

General do’s and don’ts

  • Keep follow-up appointments with the health professionals. Some medications require periodic blood tests that are important to your child’s health.
  • Don’t change your child’s dose or discontinue seizure medicine without checking with the doctor. Find out what you should do if your child misses a dose of medication.
  • Ask your doctor how to handle fever associated with childhood illness. In some children, fever triggers seizures.
  • When children are small, the parents are the ones who make sure the medications are taken on time. As children get older, they may take on more of this responsibility themselves. One way of making sure that they don’t forget is to count out (or teach the child to count out) each day’s doses and store them in a special container.


Children with epilepsy. Retrieved from https://www.epilepsy.org.uk/info/children/children-with-epilepsy
Epilepsy in children. Retrieved from https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/epilepsy-in-children
Safety advice for people with epilepsy. Retrieved from https://www.epilepsy.org.uk/info/safety

(Revised by M van Deventer)