Babysitting for children with seizures is usually no different from babysitting for other children. Unless parents have said otherwise, a child with epilepsy should be treated like any other normal, active youngster.

But a Seizure Smart babysitter always stays alert, is always aware of some special things to watch for, and knows exactly what to do if a child has a seizure.

About Seizure Disorders

A seizure is caused by a brief electrical disturbance in the child's brain. Any child can have a seizure from injury or illness, which is why everyone who looks after children should be seizure smart.

When a child has a history of having seizures from fever, or has been diagnosed with epilepsy, it just means that he or she is more likely to have a seizure than other children.

No one can see the electrical disturbance in the brain that is causing the seizure. But you may see the brief changes it causes in how the child acts or feels

Keeping Kids Safe

If treatment controls their seizures completely, most children can live normal, active lives with few restrictions.

But if a child is still having some seizures, how do you know what are reasonable and safe activities for him?

First, you ask the parents and write down any special instructions they may have. If there are no special rules, treat a child with epilepsy just as you would any other child in your care, but be extra watchful if he or she is playing in or near water or high places.

You'll also want to make sure the child gets to bed on time and gets his or her medicine on time. You'll need to know what the medicine looks like, where it's kept, how much to give, and how it should be given.

If the child is on a special diet for epilepsy, you will want to make sure nobody gives him or her anything that has not been already prepared by the parents.

Special Care

Sometimes you may be asked to babysit for a child who still has lots of seizures, and may have other disabilities as well. In that case, it's a good idea to spend some time at the child's house before you actually babysit for him.

You'll get to know him and he'll get to know you. You'll probably see what his seizures look like and how they affect him.

Most important, you'll see how his parents handle the seizures and how he feels afterwards.

What Seizures Look Like

One kind of seizure can make a child stop what he's doing and stare for a few seconds. Another kind can make him or her fall suddenly to the ground.

A seizure may make an arm or leg shake for a minute or two, or make the whole body jerk. Or it can make the child feel afraid or angry or make things look differently from what they really are.

A seizure can make a child seem confused and dazed, as if half asleep and not in touch with what's going on around her.

Another kind could make a child have a convulsion, the kind of seizure that most people think of when they hear the word "epilepsy." This type of seizure makes a child cry out, black out, fall, get stiff and then shake for a minute or two.

Both different and alike

Seizures look so different because they affect different parts of the brain. But they are alike in several ways, too.

They usually don't last long.

In most cases you don't have to do anything to stop them. They stop on their own. They're unlikely to be medical emergencies.

Most don't require any first aid - just watchful waiting till the seizure stops.And when first aid is needed, it's mostly to keep the child safe until the seizure is over.

Good News

Most kids with epilepsy today don't have seizures very often.

In fact, it's quite likely that a child with seizures will never have one while the babysitter is looking after him.

That's because children with epilepsy take medicine to prevent seizures. Or, they may be on a special diet or have an implanted device that makes seizures less likely.

First Aid

While you may never have to manage a seizure in a child with epilepsy, knowing what to do can make a big difference if a seizure does occur.

In most cases, all you need to do is a few very simple things to keep the child safe until the seizure ends on its own.

Sometimes, you don't have to do much of anything at all.

Little staring spells last only a few seconds and then the child goes back to what he was doing before. He or she she may not even know a seizure happened.

If a child jerks or falls suddenly because of a seizure, all you have to do is help him up, see if he hurt himself, and comfort him if he's upset.

Reviewed by: Joseph I. Sirven, MD | Patricia O. Shafer, RN, MN on 3/2014
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