Ready to gain some mom-nurse skills? This article discusses how to use the 5 senses to assess your child. Learn some basic assessment strategies that will help you gain a better understanding of your child’s condition and how to provide the best care.

A nursing background helps, but isn’t necessary

Performing assessments on patients is one of the essential skills a nurse develops. I have found that as a mother, my nursing assessment skills have been valuable when caring for my sick children. While nursing students spend entire semesters devoted to assessment, there are some simple things you can learn to look for at home.

Why should you care?

When you become more confident in assessing your child, you’ll experience less anxiety when deciding how to help them when they are in distress.

What is an assessment?

An assessment is a method of evaluating your child’s physical and mental health. Luckily, this is something that as a parent, you are already subconsciously doing every day. You check in with your child to see how they are feeling every morning. You watch your child’s facial expressions as they tell you about their day at school. Theses are both examples of little assessments you do naturally. Parents do not need to have a medical or a nursing degree to assess their child!

How is doing an assessment helpful?

Doing a quick assessment of your child is a great way to figure out what is bothering them. It can also help you know if there’s a problem that can’t be managed at home, and if you need to call for additional help. Gathering information will guide you to which types of interventions are most appropriate to try with your child.

What do the five senses have to do with assessment?

Using your five senses is a simple way to remember what to look for when assessing your child. You don’t need special equipment, you just need to remember to pay attention and make note of subtle differences from your child’s normal appearance.

How to Use the 5 Senses to Assess your Child

As you assess your child, pay attention to the small details of what you see, hear, feel, and smell. Consider that your child may have eaten (tasted) recently. It’s essential that you don’t ignore your sixth sense, which is your intuition!

Breaking it down:


This is probably the first sense you are going to use when your child comes to you with a problem. There’s a lot you can discover just by observing your child for a moment. If your child is standing before you talking, you know right off the bat that they are awake, alert, and aware of their surroundings.

Obvious as this may seem, this is crucial information in deciding if you require immediate assistance. Anytime a child has an altered level of consciousness, you will want to get help.

Once you are confident your child is safe, the next thing you can try to do is determine the nature of their problem. To make it easier, I like to categorize it under three main areas. Take a minute to determine if you are dealing with an injury, illness, or big emotions.

Cluing into the Problem

  • Injury Use your eyes to look for scratches, bruises, and bleeding. What do you notice about your child’s movement? Are they favoring any extremities?
  • Illness Look for signs of sickness. Does your child have a runny nose? Red or gooey eyes? Bright red face? Pale face? Does your child appear to have any rashes? 
  • Big feelings Your child may look just fine physically, but is obviously nervous, upset, scared, or angry.

When you know the nature of what is wrong, you can make informed decisions on how to best handle the issue.


 What does your child have to say? Take the time to really listen to the full story of what happened.  Notice if your child is able to talk calmly. Is your child so upset that they can’t get a word out?

If your child looks sick, what do you hear? Are they coughing, sniffling, or sneezing? Do you hear wheezing? What does the sound of their voice tell you? Does their voice sound normal? Is it hoarse or quieter than usual?


 What does your nose tell you about the situation? Has your child had a lot of gas recently? Have they had diarrhea or vomiting? Do they smell like chemicals or something that could have been ingested?


Does your child’s skin feel hot or clammy? Do they experience pain when you touch an injured area? 


When it comes to the sense of taste consider the following questions: Has your child eaten anything recently that could cause stomach distress? Is there any chance they could have ingested any toxins? 

Your sixth sense

Some people would call this “mother’s intuition.” It is also known as a “gut feeling.” Sometimes parents know something is off and just can’t put a name to it. In cases like this, you need to have the confidence to trust yourself. If you feel like you need to call the Dr, call the Dr! If you are worried and feel like your child should be seen in the ER, go to the ER.

Personal examples

At the hospital

As a pediatric nurse, there were times when I walked into a patient’s room and immediately knew something was off. I discovered that when I paid attention to those feelings, I was better prepared when a patient’s health rapidly deteriorated. Listening to my sixth sense helped me catch things I might have otherwise missed.

At home

I remember one winter when my second child was just over a year old. He had a cold and had been acting off for a couple of days. Although he didn’t seem like he was in a lot of distress, my gut told me to take him to the doctor’s office. After checking him out, we discovered his oxygen was low. He needed extra suctioning and oxygen at home for a few days to help him out. I am still so glad that I used both my assessment skills and my mother’s intuition that day.

Trust Yourself

If you are hesitating to take your child to the doctor, don’t! That’s why they are there. There’s no need to be embarrassed or worry that you are wasting their time. Providing reassurance and education is a big part of health professionals’ jobs. Always follow your gut!

Final Thoughts

Paying attention to your senses and asking yourself some of these simple questions can help you understand what is bothering your child and if you need to seek medical assistance. Doing a quick sensory assessment helps to gather a lot of information. If you do end up needing to consult a medical professional, you will be able to provide them with helpful details when they are trying to make a diagnosis.

Looking for more information about how to help your sick kids? Check out these articles: Easy breathing exercises to help comfort your kids , sick kids safety, and how to help your child sleep when they are sick.

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