What Does a Seizure Look Like in a Child?

An infant or child may be diagnosed with epilepsy if they have two or more unprovoked seizures. It is important to recognize signs of a seizure and know what to do if a child is suspected of having a seizure.

The Pediatric Epilepsy Center at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago treats at least 2,200 children from around the country and the world each year, making it one of the busiest child epilepsy centers in the Midwest. Lurie Children’s is home to a multidisciplinary team of experts who treat and manage pediatric epilepsy.

Rebecca Garcia-Sosa, MD, and David Bieber, MD, answer some common questions about kids and seizures.

What does a seizure look like in a baby or toddler?

Seizures in infancy and early childhood can look different. At times, they can be harder to recognize as the patients themselves often are not able to express what they feel. Usually, seizures present as an obvious change in behavior with decreased interaction or repetitive abnormal movements. One unique seizure type in babies are infantile spasms.

Infantile spasms are a type of seizure that occurs most commonly within the first year of life and present as brief, repetitive events of arm and leg stiffening or crunching of the body. These typically occur in clusters around waking or falling asleep and can occur multiple times over a duration of a few minutes.  

What can trigger a seizure?

Seizures are not predictable, but known triggers are sleep deprivation, missed doses of medications, and intercurrent illnesses. Most seizures stop on their own, lasting 30-120 seconds.

What should you do if your child is having a seizure?

  • Stay calm and time the seizure
  • Protect child from injury – clear the area of anything hard or sharp 
  • Turn child gently onto their side to help keep the airway clear
  • Cushion their head 
  • Loosen any tight clothing around the neck 
  • Do not put anything in their mouth
  • Do not hold child down or try to stop their movements
  • If the seizure does not stop at 5 minutes, administer emergency medication, and call 911
  • Stay with child until they have fully recovered

How can I keep my child safe from seizures?

Follow these best practices: 

  • Teach family members and friends seizure first aid. 
  • Have your child wear a medical alert bracelet or identifier that says he or she has epilepsy. 
  • Make sure your child takes their medication on time, every day. This is very important to reduce chance of seizures. 
  • Make sure your child gets enough sleep. Poor sleep can lead to more seizures. 
  • Consider a helmet if your child has seizures that cause frequent falls. 
  • Discuss a Seizure Action Plan with your provider. A seizure action plan is individualized and will help explain what to do if your child has a seizure. 

Learn More About Our Epilepsy Center


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