When School Causes Tension or Migraine Headaches

Each school year brings many opportunities for learning and making new friends for your child. But if he suffers from school-related stress, it may also mean coping with frequent headaches.

Kids and Tension Headaches

Tension headaches are quite common among school-age children and adolescents. In fact, a study included in the American Academy of Pediatrics journal Pediatrics back in 1999 revealed that the start of a new school year can be filled with stress for little ones and this can be enough to set off a series of headaches.

A Continuing Trend

A decade later the trend continues, with the National Headache Association reporting that one in six youngsters suffers from recurring tension headaches, while one in 10 experiences migraines, which are more severe headaches that often cause throbbing pain on one or both sides, sensitivity to light and nausea and vomiting.

Daily Pressures and Tension Headaches

Researchers believe that many headaches affecting children and adolescents can be traced back to stress and lifestyle issues. Some of the school-related stressors that cause tension headaches include high parental expectations, a driving desire to succeed and peer pressure.

What You Can Do

Although no parent wants to see their child suffer, you'll be relieved to know that most tension headaches aren't the sign of a more serious illness. While you can't instantly make the pain disappear, there are some steps that can reduce your child's daily stress level.  For instance:

  • Help prepare your child for the challenges he'll face in the school setting.
  • Open up the lines of communication so he'll feel safe confiding his troubles to you.
  • Find a therapist who can help get to the root of what's bothering him.
  • Play detective yourself by tracking what factors seem to trigger the headaches.
  • Find patterns in when the pain occurs (such as after going to bed too late, studying for an upcoming test or grappling with an overload of homework) and then help him to brainstorm ways to better manage these situations.
  • Encourage your child to get a full night's rest and eat a balanced diet, which will help his body deal with stress without ill effects.
  • Have him avoid caffeine and other stimulants, as well as processed foods and those containing MSG (a chemical commonly used in the preparation of Chinese food), since all of these can trigger headaches.
  • Teach your child relaxation exercises, including deep breathing and yoga, which can have a calming effect.
  • Reach out to other resources that can help reduce your child's stress. For instance, hire a homework tutor if academics seem to be a problem, or encourage him to participate in a club or activity where he'll meet people with similar interests if he needs more socialization.
  • Suggest an array of relaxation techniques, including unwinding in a hot bath or shower, using a cold compress, listening to music or even napping.

Other Strategies

Your doctor may recommend over-the-counter or prescription medication to treat occasional tension headaches that prevent your child from engaging in his daily activities. Migraines can be incapacitating and often require stronger treatment and control strategies.

The good news is that many children and adolescents do eventually outgrow their headaches. In the meantime, you can help your child get an A+ in managing stress and keeping his headaches to a minimum.


American Headache Society. "Headaches in Children." Web.

Pirjo Anttila, MD, Liisa Metsähonkala, MD, PhD, and Matti Sillanpää, MD, PhD. Pediatrics. "School Start and Occurrence of Headache." Vol. 103 No. 6 June 1999, p. e80. Web.

Cleveland Clinic. "Tension-type Headaches in Children and Adolescents." Web.

Cleveland Clinic. "Headaches in Children and Adolescents." Web.

KidsHealth: The Nemours Foundation. "Headaches." Web.