Getting your child relief from her headache shouldn’t give you one.

A child can get a headache for many reasons. He may have skipped lunch, not drunk enough water during the day or not gotten enough sleep. He might have a cold or sinus infection coming on. Even hormone changes children go through during puberty can cause headaches.

If your child is getting headaches a lot and they affect her daily life, you should talk to her doctor about whether she has migraines.

“Usually, migraines follow a pattern,” says Soe Mar, MD, a Washington University pediatric neurologist at St. Louis Children’s Hospital. “This includes throbbing pain that gets worse with light or noise. Kids may also throw up. Plenty of rest and a painkiller that contains ibuprofen or acetaminophen often helps.”

Young children can get migraines, but migraines are not very common for children younger than 5 years.

If your child is getting a lot of headaches that aren’t migraines, stress may be the cause. Too much stress can lead to tension headaches, which happen when neck or shoulder muscles get very tight. These headaches feel like pressure at the front and sides of the head.

Spotting the signs

“Headaches that should get a parent’s attention usually come with high fever, fatigue, vomiting, stiff neck or rash,” says Kristine Williams, MD, MPH, a Washington University Clinical Associate at University Pediatric Associates. “Another red flag is if your child looks or acts very sick. Young kids can’t always tell you that they have a headache, but they may be really sleepy or cranky. They may also pull at their ears.”

Also, talk to your child’s pediatrician if your child has headaches that:

  • become more frequent and more painful in a short time
  • cause changes in behavior
  • cause her to throw up in the middle of the night or early morning
  • lead to problems with schoolwork
  • wake her up when she’s sleeping

In most cases, though, a headache is nothing for parents to worry about.

“When a child has a headache, parents can easily think the worst,” Dr. Mar says. “If the headaches only happen every now and then, and sleep and pain medicine help, we don’t worry too much.”

Have more questions about headaches? Visit and search “headaches” for more valuable information.


Expert Advice