Your kid’s complaining about a bad sore throat. Or got hit in the head hard at her soccer game. Or cut his finger and it won’t stop bleeding. What next? Here’s how to handle any and every emergency:

Weigh the risks. “If your child’s illness or injury is life-threatening, go straight to the ER or call 911,” says Hanan Tanuos, MD, director of pediatric primary care and assistant professor at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School. “But urgent care is an option for many other situations for kids. For the most part, these facilities have family medicine doctors on staff, and some have imaging such as CT scans.”

Don’t wait for an emergency to make a plan. When looking at urgent care facilities, find one that’s comfortable treating kids. “Because there’s no hard and fast rule about the scope of services offered or age ranges treated at urgent care facilities, talk to your pediatrician during one of your child’s regular checkups,” says Amanda Montalbano, MD, division of urgent care at Children’s Mercy Kansas City. “Ask your child’s doctor, ‘if you’re not available, where should I go?’”

Call your pediatrician if your child needs after-hours care. It’s always a good idea to check in with your child’s doctor first. Maybe you’re unsure if he should be seen right away. Your pediatrician knows your child’s history and can evaluate symptoms and talk you through the decision. “Sometimes he or she may suggest you wait to be seen in his or her office the next day,” says Montalbano.

Don’t hold off on giving your child what she needs to feel better. “If your kid doesn’t feel good, it’s fine to give [her] over-the-counter medications such as acetaminophen or fluids, even if you’re coming in to see us,” says Therese L. Canares, MD, assistant professor of pediatric emergency medicine at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. “You don’t need to hold off on helping your child feel better because you think we need to see how your child was acting.”

Understand what urgent care is meant for. Sometimes it’s a great choice, and sometimes it’s not. “Urgent care is for treating something you might see your pediatrician for,” says Canares. “If you’re wondering if you should call 911, you belong at the ER.”


At-A-Glance Emergency Action Plan

Trust your gut and consult your pediatrician, but here’s typically where you should go for these kid emergencies: