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Crying Child That Is Not Acting Normally

Crying is a child's first way of communicating. Parents and caregivers become better over time at identifying their child's cry. Along with crying, a child may not act normally when something is wrong with him or her. Infection, illness, injury, or a medical problem may cause a child to not act normally.

Signs of not acting normally

  • Looks or acts different, such as a change in balance or coordination
  • Appears confused or does not interact with people or objects in his or her environment. Look for a change in the level of consciousness.
  • Sleeps more or appears to have no energy
  • Cries more than usual or cries during sleep
  • Has refused two feedings in a row or is vomiting
  • A baby older than 1 month has a different type of cry than you have identified as usual for him or her.
  • Cries and is fussy after 24 hours of home treatment
  • Has swelling over a body part and cries (pain cry) when the area is touched or moved
  • Refuses to use an arm or leg or refuses to walk or stand. (This is for children who are old enough to walk. Children usually start to walk when they are 9 to 15 months of age.)

If your child is not acting normally, check for a fever. For information on how to take a temperature, see the topic Body Temperature.

Medical treatment is needed for a fall or injury that causes more serious symptoms, such as a head injury or severe bleeding. Medical evaluation may also be needed for injuries that cause swelling and pain in the affected area.

Minor injuries or illnesses that can cause a child to cry

  • An open diaper pin in the skin
  • A piece of hair wrapped around a finger, a toe, or the penis
  • Bumping your child's head when putting him or her in a car seat
  • A fall (or being dropped) that causes a small bruise or scratch
  • An eyelash or other object in the eye. Look for one eye that is red and tearing more than the other eye. An eyelash in the eye may scratch the clear covering (cornea) over the colored part of the eye, causing a corneal abrasion.
  • An insect bite. Look for a reddened area on the skin and look for any insects, such as mosquitoes or spiders. If you suspect a dangerous spider (a brown recluse or black widow) or scorpion bite, capture the insect and seek medical care immediately. These insects can cause serious reactions (especially in young children), such as coma and death.
  • A foreign object stuck in the skin or an opening, such as an ear. Young children can put small things-such as beads, rocks, popcorn, plastic toy pieces, or small batteries-in their body openings. It may be hard to see these small things and remove them.
  • Pinkeye (conjunctivitis). If both eyes are red and seem to be painful, your child might have pinkeye. If other children you know have pinkeye and there has been no injury, consider that the redness may be pinkeye.

If you are not able to identify the cause of your child's behavior, medical evaluation may be needed.

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer William H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer H. Michael O'Connor, MD - Emergency Medicine
Last Revised February 16, 2011

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: February 16, 2011
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.

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