How to help your child aged 0-11 with migraine
For parents and carers of children with migraine who are aged 0-11 years
Talking to your child about their migraine
Talking to your child about their migraine and how it makes them feel is the first step to helping and supporting them with their condition.
There is a real lack of understanding of migraine in society and children are rarely taught about it at school, so your child may be feeling confused or worried about their condition.
Explaining in simple terms what migraine is will help them understand
For example, you could talk about how migraine causes a sore head or a tummy ache sometimes, and might also make you feel sick, dizzy or tired. You could also talk about migraine aura, which is where your child might notice changes to their sight (like seeing flashing lights or zigzags) or their speech. They might also feel numb or weak. If your child is worried or upset about their migraine, remind them that although migraine attacks can feel horrible, they are not life-threatening and go away after a few hours or days at most.
Migraine can be difficult for a child to explain how they are feeling
They may have a number of different symptoms and struggle to explain some or all of them. It might help your child to draw pictures of how their migraine makes them feel and where they are feeling pain. You could then share these pictures with your child’s doctor to help them as they make a diagnosis and understand how your child is feeling.
Some young children find it helpful to relate to characters and stories. You could make up stories about characters with migraine or say their favourite character has migraine too to help them feel less isolated.
There are also storybooks available to help children understand what it is like living with a long-term pain condition, such as Noah the Narwhal.
Your child may also feel different from their friends who do not have migraine which may upset them, particularly if they have special requirements like they need to wear a sunhat during PE lessons or have to miss out on social events. You could talk to them about how common migraine is – one in seven people have migraine so lots of their teachers and other children at their school are likely to have it. If they have a friend with another long-term health condition like asthma or diabetes, you could also tell them how the two are similar.
It is also vital to remind your child that it is not their fault that they have migraine.
The most important thing when talking with your child about their migraine is to not be dismissive. Migraine is often trivialised and many people assume it is nothing more than a headache, when in reality it can be very debilitating. Listen to your child about how they are feeling and do not downplay their symptoms or dismiss how they feel. A migraine attack is a whole body experience and can be very painful. It is unlikely your child is exaggerating their symptoms or making them up.
“I point out the hereditary element so she doesn’t think it’s something she brought on herself.”
Getting help at school
Your child may need certain adjustments at school to help them manage their migraine. For example, if screens trigger their migraine they may need regular screen breaks or to sit at the front of the class to avoid eye strain.
- They may need a bottle of water with them at all times to prevent dehydration or to wear sunglasses or sunhats outside if the heat or bright sunlight triggers their attacks.
- Your child may also need time off school when they have a migraine attack or to lie down and rest at school if their attacks only last an hour or two. This might mean they need to catch up with missed work or have extra teaching support.
The best thing to do is to speak to your child’s teachers or school support staff about their condition, how it affects them and what they need to do to manage it. The school should be able to make reasonable adjustments to support your child and put in place an action plan to ensure they are receiving the support they need.
You may need to push for help
Some parents and carers have issues with schools pushing back or not providing the right support. For example, some schools have strict rules about drinking water in lessons or are not sympathetic about frequent absences due to migraine.
Their doctor can help with the school
If you are struggling to get your child the help they need at school, the best thing to do is to speak to your child’s doctor, neurologist or headache specialist if they have one. They should be able to provide a letter to the school detailing information about your child’s condition and what support they need at school.
If necessary, you, your child’s school and their doctor can work together to create an Individual Healthcare Plan, which details your child’s needs and ensures they are getting the right support. You could ask for an Education, Health and Care Plan if their migraine is severe. You can also speak to our helpline for free on 0808 802 0066 or via our website if you require further information or support.
We also have a toolkit for parents and carers to help them get support for a child whose migraine is impacting on their education. You can download Migraine: Help in school toolkit below.
“I have had to be a very strong advocate for her in order to get her the medical support she needs, as well as to get the school to understand and make reasonable adjustments.”
Getting help from the doctor
The frequency and severity of your child’s migraine attacks will affect what type of care they need. Often, migraine can be managed effectively by your child’s GP. More extreme cases of migraine, such as chronic migraine, may require a referral to a neurologist or headache specialist. The GP should be able to provide this referral.
- Young children generally are not prescribed medication for their migraine and treatment involves managing the condition to prevent attacks from happening.
- You doctor will advise your child to keep a diary of their daily activities and any migraine symptoms they have experienced. They will ask you to note symptoms and possible triggers such as skipped meals, dehydration or physical activity. You can download our headache diary here.
- After three months of keeping a diary, your doctor will help to determine what might be triggering your child’s attacks. With the doctor’s support, you can then help your child avoid and manage their triggers.
If your child is under the care of a GP but their migraine has not improved and it is having a significant impact on their life, ask the GP for a referral to a specialist.
If your child is struggling with white backgrounds on paper and screens, you could have them undergo an Irlen Syndrome assessment to work out what colour works best for them.
“As a sufferer myself, I was able to arm myself with a headache diary when I spoke with our GP to get treatment for my daughter.”
Getting mental health support for your child
Migraine can affect a child’s mental health, particularly if it limits their social life and school life or if they feel very anxious about their migraine attacks.
There are a number of things you can do to help your child manage their mental health, such as helping them pace their hobbies and social activities to avoid over-exertion, and talking to them about how they are feeling and what they feel could help them feel better. For more ideas, click here.
If you are concerned about your child’s emotional wellbeing, you can also seek professional support for them. Their school may provide counselling services, you could pay for therapy privately or you could get a referral from your GP to Children and Young People’s Mental Health Services (CYPMHS) via the NHS.