Parenting with migraine: Children, pain and disability

People with migraines may have other family members who also have migraines.  If you’re a parent with migraine it’s possible that these family members will be your children.  Parenting a child with migraine can be difficult and stressful.   You may think that having migraines yourself will make it easier for you to help your child, but this may not be true.  Sometimes having migraines can even make parenting more complicated.

Balance caring with encouragement

Parents may learn that the ways they care for their own headaches don’t always work so well for their children.  In fact, some strategies that work for parents may even be unhelpful to their child.  While your empathy for your child may be strong and genuine, it may not always lead to making better decisions about the way you care for your child with migraines.

Be careful to not fall into the trap of caring for your child in a way that rewards the child for being a ‘sick kid’.  Finding the line between the right amount of care and attention, and too much care and attention can be tricky.  If you don’t find the right balance you run the risk of having your child respond by having more symptoms.  While you are comforting, you don’t want to make being sick too pleasurable an experience by providing your child with too much attention.

Specific parental behaviors that can reinforce being sick, rather than being well, include:

    • Talking about your child’s symptoms too often


    • Allowing your child’s headaches to limit or control family activities


    • Catastrophizing – making a mountain out of a mole hill


  • Allowing the child to frequently avoid regular activities, like school, homework, and household responsibilities

When being sick is rewarded with lots of attention, children may feel more pain and more disabled, leading them to miss more normal activities.

Are you a role model for the way to manage migraines?

A parent with migraines parenting a child with migraines needs to pay close attention to how they behave and respond to their own headaches.  Children learn a great deal about responding to illness from their parents.  Parents want to make sure that they are a good “role model” for handling and managing headache pain.  The more limited and disabled you appear in response to your headaches, the more likely it is that your children will behave in the same way.

Obviously you should not ignore your child’s pain or avoid comforting.  However, it is important to encourage as much normal activity as possible, and keep an eye out for behavior and responses that may reinforce their becoming too comfortable as a ‘sick kid’.

Making lifestyle changes to diet and sleep can be difficult as well.   While most adults with migraines understand that lifestyle modification is usually required if they want to reduce the number and intensity of their headaches, it may not seem so obvious to a child. You may wonder how a child could not see something that is so clear.  Children, especially younger children, are typically less able to see the need to make lifestyle changes, and some may actively resist.  Without clear explanation and positive support, just the idea of change can upset some children. Parents should approach this subject very carefully.