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Electric Shock

How can I keep my child safe from electric shock?

When the human body comes in direct contact with a source of electricity, the current passes through it, producing what’s called an electric shock. Depending on the voltage of the current and the length of contact, this shock can cause anything from minor discomfort to serious injury to death.

Young children, particularly toddlers, experience electric shock most often when they bite into electrical cords or poke metal objects such as forks or knives into unprotected outlets or appliances. These injuries also can take place when electric toys, appliances, or tools are used incorrectly, or when electric current makes contact with water in which a child is sitting or standing. Lightning accounts for about 20 percent of the cases that occur. Christmas trees and their lights are a seasonal hazard.

What You Should Do

If your child comes in contact with electricity, always try to turn the power off first. In many cases you’ll be able to pull the plug or turn off the switch. If this isn’t possible, consider an attempt to remove the live wire—but not with your bare hands, which would bring you in contact with the current yourself. Instead, try to cut the wire with a wood-handled ax or well-insulated wire cutters or move the wire off the child using a dry stick, a rolled-up magazine or newspaper, a rope, a coat, or another thick, dry object that won’t conduct electricity.

If you can’t remove the source of the current, try to pull the child away. Again, do not touch the child with your bare hands when he’s attached to the source of the current, since his body will transmit the electricity to you. Instead, use a nonconducting material such as rubber (or those described above) to shield you while freeing him. (Caution: None of these methods can be guaranteed safe unless the power can be shut off.)

As soon as the current is turned off (or the child is removed from it), check the child’s breathing, skin color, and ability to respond to you. If his breathing or heartbeat has stopped, or seems very rapid or irregular, immediately use cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) to restore it, and have someone call for emergency medical help. At the same time, avoid moving the child needlessly, since such a severe electrical shock may have caused a spinal fracture.

If the child is conscious and it seems the shock was minor, check him for burned skin, especially if his mouth was the point of contact with the current. Call 911. Electric shock can cause internal organ damage that may be difficult to detect without a medical examination. For that reason, all children who receive a significant electric shock should see a doctor.

In the pediatrician’s office, any minor burns resulting from the electricity will be cleansed and dressed. The doctor may order laboratory tests to check for signs of damage to internal organs. If the child has severe burns or any sign of brain or heart damage, he will need to be hospitalized.


The best way to prevent electrical injuries is to cover all outlets, make sure all wires are properly insulated, tuck wires away from your child's reach, and provide adult supervision whenever children are in an area with potential electrical hazards. Small appliances are a special hazard around bathtubs or pools.

Last Updated
Caring for Your Baby and Young Child: Birth to Age 5 (Copyright © 2009 American Academy of Pediatrics)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
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