Pediatric Migraine: A Guide for Parents

How parents can identify, explain and help manage their child’s migraine.

No parent wants to see their child in pain. This makes pediatric migraine a complicated problem for families. Parents of children with migraine are their child’s advocate, supporter and teacher as they learn to manage their migraine.

Dr. Lauren Doyle Strauss of Brenner Children’s Hospital in North Carolina and the Wake Forest School of Medicine recently spoke with us about how parents can help identify, explain and manage their child’s pediatric migraine.

Identifying Pediatric Migraine

Migraine attacks can occur in distinct, painful phases that can present a variety of symptoms similar to other medical issues, such as irritability, visual disturbances, nausea, fatigue and more. Dr. Strauss recommends parents ask their child questions if they experience any changes in their health. “It is important for us to understand what symptoms they’re experiencing so doctors can better address them and get the right diagnosis,” Dr. Strauss says.

Download our guide: Caring for a Child with Migraine

Keeping a headache journal can help you better understand your child’s migraine symptoms. Parents can record their child’s symptoms to share the information with their provider, helping improve the treatment strategy. Headache journals might also show patterns over time, letting parents identify triggers, learn about how medications affect their child, and more.

After being diagnosed with migraine, a child’s doctor will help create a treatment plan that may include medications, behavioral therapy and other ways to take care of the child. Parents should talk to their child’s doctor about any lifestyle changes that can contribute to migraine attacks. These changes can include problems with sleep, eating and mood/behavior.

Explaining Migraine to a Child

Educating your child about migraine will depend on their age. But Dr. Strauss recommends talking through the symptoms and discussing how your child will get through an attack. “I explain that it’s not that you’ve done something wrong,” Dr. Strauss says. “It doesn’t mean that you’re different or weird. Sometimes your brain goes through periods where it’s sick. It can make you feel sick to your stomach and dizzy.”

Another topic to discuss is a management plan. “It’s important to have a plan for what you’re going to do while you’re waiting for the medications to kick in,” says Dr. Strauss. Creating a comfortable environment for your child may involve laying down in a dark room, head or back rubs and anything else that helps your child relax. “A lot of times, it’s comforting just to have your parent there listening,” says Dr. Strauss.

Managing Pediatric Migraine

After getting an individualized migraine treatment plan from your child’s doctor, parents can help manage their child’s migraine by educating other family members, teachers and coaches about how migraine impacts their child. Discussing the disease can be difficult, but those tough conversations are how parents can advocate for their child with migraine.

There are different types of school resources available to help you manage your child’s migraine in the classroom. Explain your child’s migraine and treatment to the school nurse, administrators and their teacher early in the school year. Having a plan in place with the school can help make your child’s next migraine attack easier to manage. “The key is to start treatment early on,” Dr. Strauss says. If the school administers as-needed medication in a timely manner, your child will experience better migraine outcomes. The longer your child is in pain before a treatment, the less effect it will have on their migraine.

Parents of children in student athletics should discuss their child’s migraine with the coaching staff and other athletic officials. Create a plan with the team leaders so everyone knows what to expect during a migraine attack. Dr. Strauss recommends speaking with adults who assist the team so there’s a go-to person helping make them comfortable or administering their medication.

For more migraine resources and educational material, visit our Migraine Essentials page. From blogs and videos to downloadable guides, those living with migraine or supporting someone who lives with migraine can find the resources they need to be empowered.