How to help your child minimize headaches this school year

Stress at school can trigger a headache.

The new school year brings a lot of fun things — excitement, new friends, new teachers, after-school activities … but it can also bring about stress and headaches as homework piles up and tests loom around the corner.

Starting the year off right can help minimize a child’s stress levels throughout the year, which could lead to fewer headaches for your child.

6 ways parents can help

Our friendly staff at the Jane B. Pettit Pain and Headache Center advises parents to take note of the following:

1. The first few weeks of school

If your child feels anxious and stressed at the start of the school year, it’s a surefire way to trigger a headache. Remind your child that he or she is not the only student who is a bit uneasy about the first day of school.

Point out the positive aspects of school — it’s fun, they can meet new friends, etc. And remind them they don’t need to be perfect and get straight A’s to make you happy or be successful.

2. Your child’s backpack

Be sure your child is using a backpack with wide, padded shoulder straps and a padded back. They should pack light and organize the backpack to use all of its compartments.

Make sure they’re using both shoulder straps when carrying the pack, as slinging a backpack over the shoulder can strain muscles and lead to a muscle tension headache. And be sure the backpack never weighs more than 10 to 20 percent of your child’s body weight.

3. Sleep schedules

Teenage years are known for their erratic sleeping periods. However, it is imperative that your child gets adequate and consistent sleep to help prevent headaches.

I recommend aiming for eight hours of sleep at night and keeping phones and tablets out of the bed. Giving the body time to detach from electronic devices before falling asleep is a great way to avoid headaches in the morning.

4. Eating healthy … and regularly

Many children do not eat breakfast because they feel they don’t have the time in the morning. I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to eat breakfast in addition to lunch and dinner. If your child doesn’t have time to eat, encourage him or her to grab food that’s easy to eat on the go, like granola bars or fruit. You could even make sandwiches the night before.

It is also important for kids to minimize processed foods and caffeinated beverages to help prevent headaches.

5. Hydration levels

Dehydration is a common headache trigger. Adequate intake of fluids throughout the day is crucial to preventing headaches. Water is always the best choice. If your kids don’t like the taste of water, they can drink beverages like Propel and Vitamin Water. Just be sure to avoid beverages that are high in sugar or caffeine.

6. Taking part in physical activity

Parent should encourage their children to take part in physical activities at school, as these are not only great fun, but also an important part of playing and learning. It is also vital for healthy growth and development.

When to consult a medical professional

If your child’s headache persists, it is imperative that he or she undergoes an evaluation to diagnose the type and specific factors behind it. There are a number of treatment options to assist your child in getting back to the quality of life he or she deserves.

If you are struggling with your child’s headaches and would like your child evaluated, please call our Pain and Headache Center at 414-266-1980 to schedule an appointment.

Katie DuBois, APNP– Katie DuBois, APNP, Jane B Pettit Pain and Headache Center, Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin

Doctors and nurse practitioners in our Pain and Headache Center specialize in diagnosing and managing pediatric headaches. They work in collaboration with other areas throughout the hospital to create a treatment plan that fits each child’s specific needs.

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