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Talking to Kids About Migraine

Family hanging out together on the bed, migraine an open topic between parents and children
Getty Images /Kate Sept

As her migraines progressed and her kids got older, Jaime Sanders had to change the way she’d talk to them about her condition. Here’s how she spoke to them, and her tips for other parents living with migraine.

When I was in high school, I knew that motherhood was in my future. I loved my relationship with my mother, and wanted to create a similar one with my own children. Never in a million years did I imagine that migraine would impact that dream.

During my last pregnancy, I experienced my first severe migraine. One morning during my first trimester, I woke up with a migraine — and it didn’t go away for three months.

This time in my life was extremely difficult. In addition to dealing with daily chronic migraine, I had two kids to take care of (ages 1 and 3), I worked full-time, and I went to college at night. All of this ushered me into the role of a parent living with chronic pain.

My children were too young to really understand what their mommy was going through. Like most mothers with migraine, I pushed through the agony to take care of my family. I’d collapse at the end of the day when everything was said and done.

As my kids grew, so did the migraine attacks. They were coming more swiftly and severely. I had to figure out what to do — fast.

Here are some of the ways that I talked about migraine with my kids over the years to help them understand what I was going through.

Toddler through preschool years

When my kids were between the ages of 2 and 4, I would describe migraine in terms that they could process and make sense out of.

For example, I told them that my brain was not like most brains. It was very special, so I had to take care of it differently. It didn’t like loud noises, bright lights, or icky smells.

If there was too much of any of those things, it would get upset and start crying. When my brain cries, it makes my head hurt. My brain wants me to go into a dark room and go to sleep, so I do.

Explaining my head pain and photophobia and phonophobia in this way helped my kids understand it better.

Grade school

By this time, my kids had a better understanding of migraine and were already used to the idea of mommy having bad days. It was during these years that I became chronic. If an attack hit me, which was almost daily, they immediately knew that I needed quiet and rest.

If I woke up with a migraine on a school day, I’d tell them that mommy needed them to be my “super helpers” while getting them ready for school. Whether it was pouring their own cereal, getting dressed, or packing their lunch, having them do as much as possible on their own made it easier for me.

I’d tell my kids that I needed them to play quietly and use their indoor voices. My daughter, who is my oldest, would keep her younger brothers occupied with games or videos. Even at 5 or 6 years old, she became a great caretaker.

As my kids got older, I made sure to explain to them that I was not like their friend’s mother who doesn’t have migraine. I can’t always do the things other moms can do, because a migraine attack can come at any moment and take me out of the game.

Still, I always reinforced that having migraine didn’t make me any less of a mother to them. I would always do everything I could to spend time with my kids, like playing, chaperoning field trips, being silly, and having fun. I just couldn’t do it as much as I’d like to. But no matter what, I did it in ways they needed me to.

Middle and high school

My kids and I were pros at this point. Trips to urgent care and hospital stays were a regular occurrence. The kids understood how debilitating migraine was, and that it was challenging for me to always be present for them.

It was amazing how they coped with it, too. Teaching them about my disease when they were smaller helped them to grow into extremely compassionate people.

We often spoke honestly and openly about how this disease affected our family. It was, and still is, important for me to let them express their feelings.

Useful tips to consider

Try the following to keep your kids occupied and make things easier on yourself when you’re dealing with a migraine:

Set up a quiet box

Fill it with books, board games, a selection of your kids’ favorite TV shows or movies, simple crafts, coloring books, and puzzles. Have them pick something out of the box when you need some quiet time. There’s no need to break the bank — you can find many of these toys at your local dollar store. They can play quietly while you rest.

Rest when you can

Young kids need their nap time! If you need to lie down and recharge, do it when your kids are napping, too.

Start a weekly meal prep plan

The less you have to do on a daily basis, the easier it is for you. Pick one day out of the week to prepare your meals and snacks, and choose a time when you’re less likely to feel exhausted. I love making meals in my slow cooker. Sort out your child’s snacks and lunches in advance, too.

When a migraine attack hits, you’ve already taken the worry out of getting lunch and dinner ready. I still meal prep sometimes, and my kids are now 20, 17, and 16. It’s the gift that keeps on giving!

Delegate chores

As soon as my kids hit the double digits, I taught them to do their own laundry. I also had them help me vacuum and dust. The more independent you teach them to be, the better it is for everyone.

Include them in the kitchen

It was important for me to teach my children how to cook the basics. If your kids are in grade or middle school, they can help out in the kitchen. Plus, there are kid-friendly utensils that will help them be the best sous chef! High schoolers can learn how to make meatloaf, pasta, baked chicken, or breakfast for dinner. Who wouldn’t love that?

The takeaway

As my migraine disease progressed, so did the way I’d talk about it with my kids. Children are naturally empathetic and sympathetic, and willing to help out their parents. Choosing language they can understand and teaching them simple ways to help you out is key to managing your disease while parenting.

The information presented is solely for educational purposes, not as specific advice for the evaluation, management, or treatment of any condition.

The individual(s) who have written and created the content in and whose images appear in this article have been paid by Teva Pharmaceuticals for their contributions. This content represents the opinions of the contributor and does not necessarily reflect those of Teva Pharmaceuticals. Similarly, Teva Pharmaceuticals does not review, control, influence or endorse any content related to the contributor's websites or social media networks. This content is intended for informational and educational purposes and should not be considered medical advice or recommendations. Consult a qualified medical professional for diagnosis and before beginning or changing any treatment regimen. 

NPS-ALL-NP-00959 MAY 2023

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