Migraine in Children: Managing Their Emotional Side Effects

Written by Holly Hazen

Here are some ideas to help manage migraine in children and the accompanying emotional side effects. Migraines do not just cause physical pain, they cause all kinds of disruptions.

If you are a migraine sufferer, you already know that they do not just cause physical pain.

They cause daily/weekly interruptions and can have long term emotional side effects that effect us as adults.

According to Terri Roberts in her book Living Well with Migraine Disease and Headaches a good support system is as important as good medical treatment.

She talks about isolation, anger, grief and the sense of loss that comes with chronic headaches and migraines. This is actually a huge topic and it's not just for kids!

Let’s face it we all want our children to grow up happy, healthy and have abundant lives. We want to raise strong, capable, happy, confident, emotionally stable kids.

Migraine puts, or perhaps I should say can put, a damper on that. Seeing your child in such great pain, is ... well ... it’s just for the too hard basket! But there is hope!

Signs That Your Child Is In Pain

If your child, or children are older, they can often tell you that they have pain, although some children might not be able to tell you exactly where their pain is. Younger children may show you that they have pain by:

  • crying or screaming
  • pulling a face
  • changes in their sleeping or eating patterns
  • becoming quiet and withdrawn
  • refusing to move, or being unable to get comfortable. [4]

If you can't seem to comfort them enough to relax, try using an ice pack or cold compress to ease the headache. Pain relievers like paracetamol or ibuprofen might help... but if it's a migraine, you might need to take other actions. [4]

I've written more about effective treatments for migraine in children here - Migraine Relief For Children: Prevention, Treatment And Medications.

The Royal Children's Hospital in Melbourne suggest using paracetamol for mild to moderate pain in babies over one month old, children, adolescents and adults. And ibuprofen can be used for mild to moderate pain in children, adolescents and adults. It should not be used in children under three months of age, or be given to children with bleeding disorders. [4]

Never give aspirin for pain to your child if they are under 12 years, unless it is advised by your doctor. It can cause a rare but serious illness called Reyes Syndrome. [4]

Preventing Long Term Emotional Side Effects of Migraine in Children

Migraine in Children

Not only is there a lot of professional help available, like school counselors or on-line professional pain counseling 24/7.

Your local neighborhood center often has free counseling.

There are pain clinics now using biofeedback devices, and many alternative therapists specializing in migraine headaches. Just a word of caution here to see your physician first. Get the right diagnosis and treatment plan be spending too much on complementary therapies that boast a cure.

There are more migraine savvy doctors and there are more effective preventative medications to use with childhood migraines than ever before in history. And overall, migraine is slowly being recognized as a serious medical condition.

You definitely have a number of options for self care and preventing any long term emotional side effects from taking hold. Here are just a few.

Migraine Management Options

Here are a number of options for managing the emotional side effects of migraine in children.

According to Migraine for Dummies if you are a migraine sufferer yourself, you already have most of the essential keys for surviving migraine attacks. Especially if you are a chronic sufferer with years of experience. So you can show your child that a wonderful and successful life is possible.

Staying optimistic is option one!

Option Two – be honest and up front when they are old enough to understand. The statistics show that about one out of ten kids (10%) from ages 5 to 15 have headaches that are bad enough to put them in bed. It goes up for adolescents to 28% from ages 15 - 19. This means no soccer, no friends or socializing, and many cancelled appointments.

They will feel disadvantaged by missing activities, they will feel upset about missing friends parties, and they will miss school. You may need to do a little extra effort here. Consider a tutor or ask the school for additional assistance.

"Repeated school absences not only impair academic progress but also prevent normal social activities and development" (Rizzoli, The Migraine Solution, p. 106).

Because migraine in children are of short duration, they may need to go to the nurses office for treatment instead of coming home. If they do come home, they may be well enough to return to school in the afternoon.

Option Three – other people that do not get migraines do not understand this level of pain. My psychologist once quoted "forgive their ignorance of MY suffering". I used to get so angry and hurt that others thought I was avoiding things.

Take this as a given. They think it’s just a headache, like they get, or that you are trying to get out of something you don’t want to do. Your child will inevitably ask you “why me?” Prepare yourself to explain this hurdle.

Option Four - remember to tell your child about their good points that you see. Repeat their strengths (they will need reinforcement) and how positive they are normally, when they are not in migraine. Focus on their good parts, when he is happy, how many friends he has, and how much you love him for who he is. Pain or no pain.

Remember pain is not all that we are.

Option Five - they will notice your responses. I don’t have to tell you that - they mirror us all the time! So, they must learn from you that migraines are important enough to be dealt with in a business like fashion. By this I mean – get educated about your condition, learn ways to manage, find strategies that work for you.

People run businesses with organization and strategy, why not use similar successful tools in our life? Use a migraine diary or symptom tracker to help determine patterns.

We need to somewhat distance ourselves from the intense emotion and think positively and be organized and prepared for an attack - as much as humanly possible. I know they are only children, but they will take your lead.

If you are level headed about it all, they will see and learn this part too. Even without speaking. How you deal with it matters! If you become an emotional wreck, chances are they will not handle it well either.

Option Six - it might be useful to tell them about other famous people that have migraines and still lead spectacular lives. Check online for their favorite people – athletes, actors, baseball players, you know. Let them know a good life is possible.

They will be too young to appreciate that Elvis had horrible migraine attacks. But they might know Lewis Carroll who wrote Alice in Wonderland.

Option Seven - this one is important and Migraine for Dummies says it best: ”Make sure that you tell him he doesn’t get migraine attacks because he’s bad” or because God is punishing him for being naughty.

Cognitive Behavior Modification (CBT) might be useful if they are old enough.

Encourage Them To Get Out Of Bed As Soon As Possible

Ok – here’s the hard part – mom’s and dad’s! With children it is necessary to encourage them to get out of bed as soon as possible and get back to what they can do.

Children do not suffer for hours and days like adults do. They typically have one to three hours of pain, in most cases, so they can get back to activities much sooner than you might think.

Research findings say that over protected children can become more isolated, see themselves as fragile and disadvantaged if you “mollycoddle” them and nurse them back to health too much. If they think “poor me” all the time, it might cause them to become social outcasts and get more depressed.

Some people benefit from taking their medication and moving. Getting active may actually reduce the pain episode. You may need to experiment. But staying in bed is not the only answer for children and can lead to having detrimental emotional side effects.

Another option to help manage the emotional side effects of migraine in children is to help calm them down with an easy migraine meditation using a progressive muscle relaxation technique. Once they have rested and the pain has subsided, they can return to their activities.

Regardless of your child's age, migraines usually get better or go away altogether with sleep. [4]

Here's A Few More Things To Help Relieve Migraine in Children

Migraine in children can be a difficult thing to manage. So hang in there and don't give up. You will find what works...

Until next time, be well and be pain free,


Migraine in Children References:
1. Robert, T. (2005)
Living Well with Migraine Disease and Headaches. Harper Collins Publishers: New York.
2. Stafford, D. and Shoquist, J. MD. (2003)
Migraines for Dummies. Wiley Publishing, Inc:New York. pp. 241-260.
3. Rizzoli, P. MD et al (2011)
The Migraine Solution. St. Martin's Press: NY. p. 106. 
4. The Royal Childrens Hospital Melbourne (2018) Migraine headache. Available [online] at: https://www.rch.org.au/kidsinfo/fact_sheets/migraine_headache/  Accessed Mar. 13, 2019

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