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How to Tell if a Toddler Is Having Seizures

By Shae Freeman ; Updated June 13, 2017

A seizure is a surge of electrical activity that takes place in the brain suddenly. Depending on the kind of seizure and the history of episodes in the patient, there may be subtle signs that the person may have prior to the seizure taking place. This is harder to tell in small children. According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, there are more than 30 types of known seizures, broken down into two categories: Focal seizures and Generalized seizures. Focal seizures, also known as partial seizures, include those where the person is still conscious but experiences various sensations during the seizure. Generalized seizures typically cause the person to become unconscious and he may experience jerking motions or may not move at all. These various types of seizures may appear differently, so it is important to know what kind the child has and be able to determine when one is taking place.

  1. Watch for sudden unconsciousness in the child. This can happen right in the middle of playing with no warning or the toddler may appear disoriented right before the seizure begins.

  2. Listen to a toddler if he suddenly begins to cry or makes unusual noise with or without an unusual movement. A child who cries out without being able to focus when being called or comforted may be in an active seizure.

  3. Check for any episodes where the child seems to stare off into space and does not appear to hear or see when someone is attempting to get her attention. This is a sign of an absence seizure and typically only lasts a few seconds.

  4. Monitor the child for any changes in muscle strength -- for example, if they suddenly drop things or fall. Some seizures cause the person to lose all muscle tone, called atonic seizures, rather than become stiff as in some kinds of seizures.

  5. Be on alert for any sudden stiffening and jerking episodes in the child. This is a sign of a classic "tonic-clonic" seizure.

  6. Tip

    Make sure to take a child to see his pediatrician as soon as possible if there is a possibility that he is experiencing seizures. Testing to determine the kinds of seizure he may be having and any available medical treatment is very important and should be done as early as possible.


    Never stick anything in a child's mouth if she's in an active seizure. She will not literally "swallow" her tongue, and anything put into the mouth can quickly become a choking hazard.

    A child having a first seizure needs immediate medical attention.

    Call 911 immediately if the toddler does not regain consciousness, begins to show signs of difficulty breathing (skin becomes bluish), hits his head during seizure activity or has back-to-back seizures.

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