Skip to Accessibility Tools Skip to Content Skip to Footer

Circle of Life: Parenting a Child who has Migraine

Seeing your child in pain is one of the worst feelings a parent can experience. Looking back on my childhood and teen years, I can only imagine the agony my parents went through watching me suffer and comforting me through the severe migraines I suffered even then; agony which is borne out by the many many hours and dollars they spent helping me to find the solution which never came. By searching for a cause and looking for new treatments, at least they were actively doing something.

The inheritance

My migraines are inherited from both my grandfathers; my father and mother suffer from them, but not nearly as severely. This gave me hope that even though John and his father both get migraines occasionally (John’s have gotten worse) that maybe the WORST ones, the incapacitating, can-no-longer-work, chronic type might be every other generation for my family. Maybe that severity would skip my girls.

Statistics show that if one parent has migraine disease, the offspring’s chances are 50%. If both parents do, that increases to 75% (from the Migraine Research Foundation.1). Doesn’t look too good for X and Zo.

Passing on migraine to my children

X’s migraines first manifested when she was in fourth grade and had to rotate between three different classrooms. As is the case with many children, hers first showed up as abdominal migraine, and I was well aware of this possibility and had been looking out for it. The fact that she was already nine, the age at which I was officially diagnosed and prescribed Fiorinal and was missing whole days of school with a washcloth over my eyes, and hers were just beginning, was a comfort at least. We established that the migraine symptoms – which consisted of a visual aura much like mine, then stomach pain, then rarely, head pain – originated from one classroom, which had both flickering fluorescents and a difficult teacher.

Making the school environment more comfortable

I gave her ibuprofen when she did have head pain, and took her to our pediatrician to get a diagnosis and to have the doctor sign the required form for medicine to be kept in the office at school. He said that I had been doing everything right (of course I was) and that if they increased, there were one or two preventatives that were very safe in children (the only one I thought I’d permit would be Periactin) and she could also see one of the area neurologists who accepted children as patients. Because the flickering lights seemed to be such an issue, I found a pair of children’s migraine glasses on sale, which my mom generously purchased for her, and got permission from her teachers for her to wear them if needed, though she was loathe to do so.

Utilizing personal tips and tricks

The evening of X’s worst migraine was definitely a challenge for me. She did have pain, and it didn’t go away with ibuprofen. I put her to bed and pulled out my 30+ years of migraine tips and tricks. A heating pad for her stomach; like me at that age she preferred a cool washcloth for her head. I extinguished all lights in her room and the hall, gave her age-appropriate doses of Dramamine and Benadryl, and sat with her until she finally drifted off. I shed some tears, which she couldn’t see, though mainly I was grateful that this was her first experience like this, and I promised myself that if there were many more, I would keep my feelings of despair at her life becoming like mine completely separate from her and would only be as soothing and kind as I could be. I also decided right then to make sure she avoided one of the pitfalls that allowed so many eighties migraine kids to become chronic – the “overuse” of medication. The information we needed about migraine abortives actually increasing our headaches was not well known then. But I know it now, and I would make sure X (and Zo, as I expect time will reveal she has them as well) would not be overmedicated. This is a hot-button issue for me though, and I know that if my child is in pain, I will do what is necessary to make it better, just as my parents did, and like I do with myself today.

Monitoring migraines moving foward

Fortunately, that was her worst migraine. In fifth grade, away from that classroom and that teacher (I began to suspect it was more the teacher than the lights), migraines at school completely stopped. Now in sixth grade, she gets them from too much sensory stimulation (think amusement parks and children’s birthday parties) and stress (like tech week during a play, which would cause irregular sleeping and eating). I recognize the signs: she looks quite pale, her eyes appear dull, she is moody and withdrawn. I judge each migraine individually to determine how to treat it.

I asked X how she feels about having migraines in general. She wasn’t sure what to say – she is eleven after all – but as we talked I gathered that sometimes she doesn’t mind them, because they help her determine when she has had “too much.” They signal her to stop and be quiet. And, she said, she’s grateful they aren’t as bad as mine, and I certainly can’t argue with that.

Do any of your children suffer from migraines? Feel free to share in the comments.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The Migraine.com team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

  1. Migraine Research Foundation, About Migraine, Available at: http://migraineresearchfoundation.org/about-migraine/migraine-facts/ Accessed: February 13, 2017

Comments

  • SamanthaAnn
    2 years ago

    My oldest daughter is 11 and has had episodic migraine attacks for about 2 years. Hers mostly manifest as nausea and brain pain with sensitivity to light. She is so very brave, which I think is from watching me deal with my own attacks. This past week she has had 3 attacks so today it’s time to find her her very own headache doctor. Luckily, I have a wonderful specialist of my own who works closely with a pediatric specialist so it was an easy referral.

  • Elizabeth Roberts-Zibbel moderator author
    2 years ago

    Oh my gosh Samantha! That is so weird. As I said, my daughter is also 11 and ALSO had three attacks this week! And, manifest mostly as nausea and other symptoms but her head pain is milder. Our daughters are fortunate to have us to guide them, having been dealing with migraine our whole lives. I hope everything goes well with the pediatric specialist!

  • Abby
    2 years ago

    those stats frighten me. I had migraine since I was 2, slowly transforming into becoming chronic by age 17. Knowing what that’s like, I’m really wrestling with having kids. Did anybody else wrestle before deciding to have kids? Or is still wrestling with the decision?

  • Elizabeth Roberts-Zibbel moderator author
    2 years ago

    (Abby, see comment below Samantha Ann. Sorry about that!)

  • Elizabeth Roberts-Zibbel moderator author
    2 years ago

    Abby, I totally understand and also began having migraines at age 2. I also have endometriosis, so for a long time I thought by the time I had a partner and was ready I might be infertile. When I wasn’t, I just went for it, and am so glad neither daughter has the migraine severity that I’ve always dealt with. How does your partner feel? It is SUCH a tough decision…

  • SamanthaAnn
    2 years ago

    With my second pregnancy, I had a 3-day long attack the week before I gave birth. I think that was the one that really made me think about it. No more babies after that!

  • HopeforSunshine
    3 years ago

    My 13 yr old daughter has been in a Chronic Daily since October 7, 2016. The pain scale is useless as she describes the pain as excruciating and well above a 10. She’s missed more school this year than K-7 combined. She loses vision and her hearing, has severe nausea, dizziness and sensitivity to all senses. MRIs, blood tests, allergy tests, failed medication, overnight hospital stays, lidocaine injections which also failed, physical therapy, biofeedback therapy, acupuncture, talk therapy, pain clinic visits, physician visits, neurologist and senior neurologist appointments. And me, a single mom, trying to keep my full team job. I’ve watched my energetic, funny, charming, life-loving daughter shrink to a small portion of herself who often says she feels like she’s dying and she can’t continue to cope with her migraine. She has 5 females, myself being one of them, spread throughout mine and her dad’s side. I feel powerless, hopeless and frightened for her future. It’s nice finding other parents who understand the disease and how debilitating it can be.

  • Elizabeth Roberts-Zibbel moderator author
    2 years ago

    I am so, so sorry Hope. I don’t know what else to say. That would be devastating. I’m glad you’re here. <3

  • deanna
    2 years ago

    I’m so sorry your daughter has become chronic so young. I started having migraines before I could even tell my parents what was wrong so I started young.
    I didn’t go chronic until I was 28.
    Something that turned out to be a MAJOR trigger for me was artificial sweeteners, they are in so many things under so many names it was a hard trigger to find, MSG is another.
    I started eating only organic food and it helped a lot. I kept food journals and went to Foodfacts.com to check ingredients if I wasn’t sure about something.
    With all that I still have migraines but I’m not getting violently ill every other day.
    I wish you and your daughter luck finding something that helps, it’s different for all of us but food triggers could be part of the problem.
    Now that schools don’t allow drinks with sugar to be sold…. well I’d have died if I was in school these days! It would have been awful.
    Hang in there and just keep trying new things!

  • Ivy
    3 years ago

    My daughter is the fifth generation migraineur on my side and 4th on her dad’s (that we know about). Her migraines are the most severe that any of us have had, other than perhaps my great grandfather, who eventually died of stroke. She is 12 and has chronic migraines. She hurts every single day. If the migraine breaks, she gets at best a few hours without pain. It’s been years since she had a pain free day. I get them, but before my daughter, I had no idea how debilitating migraines could be. It’s absolutely devastating

  • Elizabeth Roberts-Zibbel moderator author
    3 years ago

    I can’t imagine being that young and being chronic. At 12 I suffered tremendously, but once or twice per week. And that impacted my life so much. I’m sorry that both of you have to go through this. Does she have a good doctor?

  • cindyd
    3 years ago

    I have three sisters and we all have them, plus two of my sisters have seizure disorders. I have three sons. They all get headaches but I think my youngest two get migraines. My second son got his first migraine at the age of 8. He has.just graduated from college and gets them with.changes in barometric pressure and sometimes I think stress triggers them but he is pretty private. It.hurts.me to know that I.have passed this to them but I don’t blame my grandmother for passing them to me…it is what it is. I am so tired these days though. I have tried so many abortive and prophylactic meds and I am trying Topamax again. I am up to 50 mg again and so far so go thanks to the promethazine that I sometimes take. Work is becoming unbearable and I don’t know.how much longer I can keep going. It is day by day now…

  • Elizabeth Roberts-Zibbel moderator author
    3 years ago

    Hi Cindy! I definitely can empathize with that “day by day” feeling. Hang in there! We’re glad you’re here. And, you definitely need to not be blaming yourself for passing your migraine genes on to your kids. At least they have a mom who understands!

  • Christa279
    3 years ago

    My daughter, 10, gets migraines. She is also autistic and has limited verbal ability, so that has made figuring it out a bit harder but I know what they look like and I know my child. I believe she started getting them at age 3 and they were MSG induces then. After that point she became food selective, and migraines were harder to pinpoint until she became more verbal. Now the signs are more clear, she says “head hurts”, and escapes to her room where she turns off all lights and closes the curtains. She will ask for an ice pack also. Ibuprofen helps for now, and we are keeping a headache diary.

  • Elizabeth Roberts-Zibbel moderator author
    3 years ago

    Christa, migraines can certainly start that young. My mom thinks I was two. Your instincts seem right on! And headache diaries definitely help and can be vital for figuring out triggers and communicating with doctors. All the best to you and your daughter!

  • Deborah J.
    3 years ago

    Great article. Thanks for your thoughtfulness and your wonderful parenting. I’m an adult with chronic migraines having grown up in my 20’s for a long time untreated. To have a parent that understands and has empathy is really helpful.

  • Elizabeth Roberts-Zibbel moderator author
    3 years ago

    Thank you very much Deborah! That means a lot. <3

  • Poll