If your child suffers from migraine headaches, then you’re all too familiar with that helpless feeling you get when pain sidelines them.
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Fortunately, you can help your child avoid periodic headaches and migraines — and manage them when they strike.
Here, pediatric psychologist Ethan Benore, PhD, answers common questions about handling headaches in kids:
Q: How common are migraine headaches in childhood?
A: Between 3 and 10% of children experience migraines; tension-type headaches may affect closer to 30% of children.
Migraines and other headaches are among the leading causes of school absences and daily medical symptoms that impair children.
Q: When should you seek medical attention for a child’s headaches?
A: Start with your primary care physician if your child seems to have headaches more than once in a while. Specifically, see your doctor if your child has headaches more than once a week.
See a neurologist for further evaluation if your child has other neurological symptoms along with headaches, such as:
- Nausea and vomiting.
- Blurred vision.
Q: How are children’s migraines treated?
The frequency of headaches will help determine their treatment. It’s not advisable to treat frequent headaches the same way you’d treat headaches that occur only once a month.
Current expert recommendations suggest that children who have migraines more than once a week should receive preventive treatment, including medication and/or behavioral interventions.
Research shows that for children, behavioral interventions are even more effective than medication. Through therapy, mental health professionals help your child learn new strategies for managing stress and for regulating emotions to avoid triggering headaches.
Q: How can parents help kids cope with migraines?
A: Your role as a parent is to help your child understand how to predict and prevent headaches through self-care skills. You can do this in three ways:
1. Track the headaches
Pay attention to what times of day or which situations lead to headaches. This may help you identify potential migraine “triggers.” You can then help your child modify his or her lifestyle to reduce the chance of a headache. For example, poor sleep or skipping breakfast may lead to late morning migraines at school. Eye strain or recurrent stress may lead to migraines later in the day.
2. Focus on ‘good, clean living’
Many studies show that making healthy lifestyle choices may help prevent migraines and headaches. Work with your child to develop healthy habits, including:
- Getting good sleep (every night, not just on weekends).
- Eating regular meals.
- Drinking plenty of water to stay well-hydrated.
- Developing a regular exercise routine.
3. Promote relaxation
It’s also important for your child to learn how to modify the nervous system through relaxation exercises. (Although watching YouTube is sometimes relaxing, it is not relaxation!)
Your child can learn to calm his or her nervous system through deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation and other relaxation strategies. Practicing the techniques can help prevent migraines.
Remember that, while medication is sometimes an important part of managing migraines, it is only one piece of the puzzle.
You can play a significant role in helping your child prevent and manage migraines, simply by focusing on behavioral changes.