Fortunately I've learned a lot about how to cope with migraines over the past 25+ years. A lot of the tips and tricks I rely on are perfect for children because they don't involve potentially dangerous medication or other risky techniques.
1. Control the environment
People experiencing a migraine are usually extremely sensitive to light, sound, smell and touch. Therefore, it is important to control these conditions as much as possible to increase your child's comfort during a migraine attack.
Light: To deal with sensitivity to light, close the shades in the room where your child is resting and provide a pair of comfortable sunglasses or a sleeping mask to block out any light still creeping into the room. Hanging light blocking curtains that you can close during an attack would be great, too.
Sound: Keep things as quiet as possible in the room your child is in and in the rest of the house. Try to avoid creating a lot of background noise because while it might seem minimal to you, anyone who has had sound sensitivity with a migraine will tell you that small sounds are dramatically amplified for a migraineur and increase the pain immensely.
Most people having a migraine find it helpful to have a cold pack or wet, cold washcloth to put on their foreheads. A cool bath in a dark room might also be soothing to your child. Try turning on the ceiling fan in your child's room or directing a portable fan so it blows on your child. Many migraineurs find they're extremely hot during an attack.
It's also a great idea to make sure build an arsenal of helpful coping tools and keep them on hand. These are some products you might want to gather up to help control your child's environment during a migraine attack:
- Badger Organic Headache Soother Balm
- Kids Be Kool Soft Gel Sheets
- Boo Boo Buddy Cold Pack
- Purple Cheetah Print Retro Ice Bag
- Kid-Size Sunglasses
- Hush Children's Sleep Mask
- Well Patch Cooling Headache Pads
- Mack's Ear Plugs, Kid Size
- Sea Band Anti-Nausea Ginger Gum
- Sea Band Child-Size Wristband
- Ginger ale (ideally a brand containing real ginger, such as Canada Dry)
- Lemon-lime soda
- Saltine crackers
2. Use aromatherapy massage
All you need to create a soothing, safe massage oil for your little one is high quality essential oils and a carrier oil, such as almond or fractionated coconut oil.
Lavender and peppermint are two popular choices of essential oils. A combination of the two would be especially soothing if your child can tolerate both scents. I personally love citrus scents, too. Lime and red mandarin are my favorites. Look for essential oils in colored bottles rather than clear bottles.
You'll simply want to mix a few of drops of each variety of essential oil into about a 1/4 cup of your carrier oil.
Get a bit of the oil mixture on your fingertips and gently massage your child, concentrating on the neck, shoulders, back, arms and legs. Gently rub at the child's temples in a circular motion, being careful to avoid the eyes. Get more of the oil mixture onto your hands as needed.
Avoid any area where touch increases your child's pain or discomfort. Leaving traces of the oil behind can be nice because the scent will continue to calm and soothe your child long after your massage has ended.
Make sure to be aware of the possibility that certain essential oils cause an increase in symptoms for your child. While lavender and peppermint are most popular among migraineurs, some patients cannot tolerate these essential oils.
The book Healing Touch for Children is a great resource for parents and other caregivers.
3. Create distractions
Researchers have discovered that children cope better with pain if they are distracted by something enjoyable.
If your child can handle the light and sound, put on a DVD of her favorite movie or TV series to distract her focus from the pain. Play soothing, relaxing music or quietly read a happy story or fairy tale.
You can read more about the research underlying this theory here: Study: TV Soothes Pain Better Than Mom.
Take cues from what makes your child feel better. If silence is the best for her, respect that and keep things as quiet as possible until she feels better.
4. Talk about the fear
If you've ever had a migraine you know how much fear is a part of the experience. You wonder if you will ever feel better; if you did something to cause this pain; if you are being punished for a misdeed; when the next migraine might strike; and what you're going to miss out on while you're down for the count. These thoughts are overwhelming to most adults. Being a child means having limited capacity and life experiences to manage these emotions.
Instead of ignoring the migraine once it's over, find a quiet time to talk to your child about the experience. Ask her whether she was scared. Tell her it's not her fault and that she didn't do anything to deserve the pain and discomfort. Ask her if she prefers to be cuddled and touched during the pain or if that makes it worse. Ask if she prefers to be left alone and periodically checked on during an attack or if she prefers to have someone quietly sit with her and keep her company. Tell her she can always come to you when she's scared and tell you how she's feeling.
5. Develop coping strategies in advance
After a migraine has passed and your child has had a chance to recover, initiate a conversation about techniques for coping with pain. There are some excellent books for children that will help you approach the child on her level and teach her skills for dealing with such an overwhelming situation.
Here are some books I recommend for younger kids:
My Secret by Gretchen Rautman
Imagine a Rainbow: A Child's Guide for Soothing Pain
Little Tree: A Story for Children With Serious Medical Illness
Visualization through guided relaxation can be a helpful tool for children dealing with pain, but you need to practice it when your child is feeling well. The throws of a severe migraine are not a good teaching moment. The best thing my mom could offer back in the day was to encourage me not to cry because it would make me feel worse. I know now that if she'd known about it, working with me on guided relaxation would have helped tremendously.
Here are some guided relaxation / meditation options I recommend.
Some will be good for developing familiarity with these concepts when your child is not experiencing a Migraine attack. Others will be great for building the familiarity necessary for successfully using these techniques during an attack.
For younger kids:
- I Can Relax! A Relaxation CD for Children
- Rainbows & Sunshine (CD)
- Peaceful Piggy Meditation (book)
- Plating Seeds: Practicing Mindfulness with Children (book & CD)
For older kids / teens:
- Break Through Pain: A Step-by-Step Mindfulness Meditation Program (book & CD)
- Mindful Movements: Ten Exercises for Well-Being (book)
- Mindfulness for Beginners (CD)
- Mindfulness Meditation for Pain Relief (CD)
How do you comfort your child when she has a migraine? How were you comforted as a child with migraines? Share your stories in the comments.
Content by Diana E. Lee.
DISCLAIMER: Nothing on this site constitutes medical or legal advice. I am a patient who is engaged and educated and enjoys sharing my experiences and news about migraines, pain and depression. Please consult your own health care providers for advice on your unique situation.