Most Migraineurs remember the moment they were told they had Migraine Disease. For many here at Migraine.com it was a moment that changed their lives. Many writing in the Patient Stories section of the site describe their moment of diagnosis in vivid detail.
Knowing this, it becomes very important to us as parents to talk to our kids appropriately when it comes time to tell them they have Migraine Disease.
Many children will receive news of their diagnosis at a doctor’s office visit. As a result, you may not have the opportunity to be sure your child hears the news the way you would like. However, there are definite plusses to being told this way, as it gives the child an opportunity to talk to the doctor and ask questions.
If another family member is also a Migraineur, you may have already discussed Migraine as a family. From the child’s perspective, this can be both good and bad.
- Good because they are likely familiar with much of the information they will need to know to minimize their attacks. They have witnessed good examples of how to manage their Migraine Disease and minimize Migraine attacks.
- Bad because they may be frightened of the diagnosis as a result of seeing family members struggle during attacks. Misinformation may also have been absorbed, as well as some of the stigma that prevails in the world about our disease. This can be both frightening and overwhelming.
If there are no other Migraineurs in the family, the child is likely to feel depressed and confused. It will be vital for family members — especially parents — to support the child physically, mentally, emotionally, medically.
The Four Corners of Support
Physically you can help your child by making sure he/she has a Migraine Tool Bag(LINK). Be mindful of food triggers by changing everyone’s menu to healthier choices. Take care that other triggers — once identified — are minimized. Create a safe space at home where your child can go during a Migraine. Have your child assist you in these tasks as this is also a learning experience from which they can benefit.
Mentally, you can support your child by educating yourself about the disease. Teach your child a little at a time in a passive manner. For example: cooking a meal together and discussing the ingredients you are using and not using, and why. You might take a moment and show them Migraine Superheroes (LINK) and let them use their imagination to ask questions or continue the story on their own. Encourage them to look up information and show them trustworthy medical sites like Migraine.com where they can find reliable information and talk to others who may share the same concerns. You can help by giving your child a written journal he/she can keep track of their attacks, helping them to identify and eliminate triggers. Remind them to keep the journal up each day and reward them for doing so. Reassure them during attacks that you still love and care about them just as you did before they became sick. Let them feel more in control of their lives by allowing them to make many choices throughout their day. Be sure they have normal responsibilities as this helps to grow self esteem that may suffer as a result of Migraine.
Emotionally, Migraine can range from merely an episodic nuisance to a chronic life changing problem for the entire family. Children will feel this keenly, and often put the blame for any perceived discord on themselves. Keeping the lines of communication wide open is not always an easy thing to do with kids, but in the case of illness it is a vital piece of the puzzle. Starting early is key. Setting an example for them is also important, as children learn what they live and see. If the child doesn’t trust, he/she is unlikely to share their own concerns. Take special one on one time with your child, but also make sure you do the same with siblings.
Medically, Migraine can be difficult. Again, education is a cornerstone for success. If the child is old enough, show them how to look up their new medicine online. Go through the information with them so they understand it. Explain to them that Migraine treatment takes above all… patience. Lots and lots of patience. If possible, have your child seen by a headache specialist who is best prepared to help diagnose, treat and support your child and your family. A multi-modal approach is best. This may entail a psychologist, physical therapist, dietician and any of a number of different specialties that may be important. Maintain all other aspects of health too, as these can highly influence your child’s Migraine attacks. As you wind your way through the new path of Migraine Disease, be sure your child understands and asks lots of questions. Teach them to be their own advocate so they will feel confident enough to talk openly with medical professionals and family members. Teach them how to read their labs and imaging. Help grow their curiosity re: their body and how it works, and how Migraine affects their different systems. Fear has trouble growing where there is understanding.
How you speak with your child will be highly dependent upon their age. You know your child better than anyone else, so use your good judgment, and when in doubt, ask a doctor for help. Whenever possible, use appropriate terms and treat them like the small adults they are. In my experience, children often surprise their parents with their capacity to deal well with difficulties like Migraine Disease.