Children, Health

Coping with migraines in children

Last autumn I wrote about my experiences with migraines as an adult. However, small boy has also been suffering with classic childhood migraines since he was about 4 and a half.

Before I go further, I want to be absolutely clear that I’m not a medical professional and our experiences shouldn’t guide you in responding to your own child’s symptoms.

If you need more official type information about migraines and headaches in children, I can recommend this NHS Fact Sheet. But, if in doubt, see a doctor.

The first time

The first time small boy had a migraine, it was tea time midway though the half term holiday after this first six weeks in reception at school. He sat down at the table, looked at us and at his dinner, then told us he had a sore head and his tummy hurt. We thought he must just be really hungry and encouraged him to eat his favourite broccoli first. Within a minute, he’d brought back up that first mouthful of broccoli and we rushed him to the downstairs bathroom. He was really sick and a very sad shade of pale grey. Once his tummy had settled, he had an early night and slept for 13 hours. The next day he was fine, it didn’t seem to be a tummy bug. We decided that he must have been dehydrated and the headache from not drinking enough had made his nauseous. We didn’t think any more of it and didn’t even look up what might have been going on.

Classic progression

Then, two weeks later, I got a call from afterschool club. Small boy was grey and complaining of a sore head and tummy. I went and fetched him and the experience of that first headache repeated itself; pain, vomiting, lots of sleep. This time though he was sick again in the morning and we thought he’d caught a sickness bug from school.

Then…. nothing more for six months. In the spring, just before lockdown, he had another awful headache and sickness. This time, I called the doctor and we quickly had a telephone appointment. The doctor was pretty decisive in her diagnosis. She said it was an absolute classic presentation of a childhood migraine, he was a little young starting to have them, but he should grow out of them at puberty. Great, just the 8 years or so to live with them then.

The progression that small boy experiences is totally classic; headache (not one-sided), painful stomach ache, vomiting, sleep and then he’s fine. From start to end is typically 2-4 hours, nothing like the days of pain that adults can experience.

What next?

Small boy has continued to have migraines roughly every six months ever since. He’s now heading for eight and he knows exactly what he’s feeling as soon as it starts. Each year, at school, we’ve explained to the teacher what to watch out for and each year they’ve reacted to the first migraine as though there’s no ongoing condition. The result of that, has been a rushed phone call a couple of hours after he first tells the teacher he’s feeling bad and then being sick in the car on the way home. This last week, he had the second one with his current teacher and she knew straight away that he needed to come home.


We haven’t been able to figure out what’s triggering small boy’s migraines. He’s really good about drinking enough and no two cases have involved any of the same unusual foods in the two or three days before. We think that maybe there’s a relationship between really rich meats – once it was after ostrich burgers and once after some really nice pate. But that’s not always the case at all. He’s also had them when he’s just had the same normal meals for the days before, no unusual activities. Another factor might be tiredness, and growing, but that’s really hard to track.


When I have a migraine, I take sumatryptan which is a magical medication; it completely sorts me out and has me back to normal within a couple of hours at most.

However, children can’t take tryptans.

So, we just have to let the migraine’s development guide us. When he’s in pain, we sit in a quiet, dark room and snuggle close. When he’s ready to be sick, we just soothe him through that. There’s absolutely no point giving pain relief because his gastric processes shut down, so it wouldn’t get into his gut to be absorbed and anyway, it irritates his stomach and just makes him vomit sooner. Once he’s stopped being sick, he needs sleep. So depending on the time of day, he might go for an early night, or he might just cuddle on the sofa and end up sleeping on my knee for as long as he needs. When he wakes up, he has little sips of water to make sure his tummy is ready for something and then some dry crackers until he decides he wants a meal – that might be the next day.

That’s all you can do with childhood migraines really, let them play out with comfort and support for your child, patience and as little fuss as possible if there’s a mess – no one wants to feel even worse when they’re sick by worrying about things like that.

If you have to take your child anywhere in the car, like fetching them home from school, be prepared with a bag or bucket and an old towel.


There’s been a bit of variety in the last few migraines though. Last autumn, he had one where he was much more sick than usual; vomiting every 10 minutes for an hour and a half. But then he slept from 5pm for two hours, waking up fine and hungry and avoiding bedtime at 7pm. Then, about a month ago, we were at my parents’ house and he had a migraine with no sickness, just pain, sleep, better.

More concerning is that he’s just had another one just four weeks since the last. This is the only time since those first two that they’ve come less than 5 months apart. Not only that, but after the less severe previous one, this seems to have been the worst in terms of pain. Maybe he’s getting older and more aware, so maybe more emotionally affected by the pain. He was absolutely distraught with this most recent one though, just sobbing with his head in his hands, whimpering that he just wanted the pain to stop.

We’re going to be really careful now. If he has another one anytime soon, we’ll be taking him to the doctors. An increase in headaches in children is always something to get checked out.

In fact, I would strongly recommend that if you suspect you child has suffered from a migraine, take them to your doctor. It should absolutely be on their medical records and checked that nothing else is going on.

How about you?

Do you or your children have experience of migraines in childhood? Please let me know how they were for you and how you coped.

Love from Smell xxx

10 thoughts on “Coping with migraines in children”

  1. I used to suffer from migraines and then I outgrew it. Make sure you check his teeth, eye sight, blood pressure, the. amount of water he’s drinking, screen time, diet and rest.
    Poor baby, I sure. hope he feels better!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I would imagine many people do not know what to look for with migraines in children (I’m one of them even though I suffer terribly with them myself since my twenties). I really feel for small boy; it’s great that you are so responsive to his needs (and now so is his school/teacher) and that the doctor was able to spot what was going on so quickly. Thanks for sharing this; I will now know what to be on the look out for!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This is a great post. It’s important to raise awareness of migraines in children. In my case I first started getting migraines when I was about nine years old. They were not “classic” — they were just intense pain, no nausea. At the time they were not diagnosed and as I grew older they increased in frequency and severity. The triggers tended to be stress/trauma. In fact, although I didn’t realize it till many years later while in therapy, my first migraine came when my family was splitting up. My brother was going to go live with my dad and it would just be mom and me. Unfortunately for me this was not a childhood disease. It progressed into my adulthood and eventually became a constant in my life (I mean that literally — I had a migraine every minute of everyday for many many years). It was debilitating. I’ve taken many many medications and treatments, but nothing was particularly effective until I approached the pain with mind/body therapy. I needed to reprogram my brain to stop interpreting the signals it was receiving as pain and to start interpreting them as a warning that I needed to address through interruptive techniques (such as mindfulness or breathing exercises, etc.). One of the most effective techniques in the beginning was a type of cognitive therapy called cognitive reframing that helped me avoid catastrophizing my pain from mild or moderate to severe. I found that when the pain started to escalate I would start “thinking the worst” and worrying about how I was going to survive the next hours at work or take care of the kids, etc. This “catastrophizing” then led to progressive escalation. By reframing the situation in my mind I could avoid the escalation and even reduce the intensity. Eventually I’ve been able to transform my daily migraines into periodic “pressure” and they rarely impact my ability to live my life. It’s been a transformative experience. Absolutely life-changing after over 40 years of pain. I’m also not a doctor or in the medical field so I’m just sharing this as sufferer/patient. The mind-body program I used to address the pain was called Curable (available as an app). I’m not affiliated with them in any way.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh no Monty! I’m glad your experience has ended with being able to cope well, but so sorry it was awful for so many years. Small boy is coping OK in general and doesn’t seem to worry in between incidents, but really hates it when they’re going on.

      Liked by 1 person

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