You can help your child get rid of a headache in school in many ways. Drinking more water and limiting screen time can help.
Headaches in school aged children are quite common. According to the National Headache Association, 20% of school children ages 5 to 17 are prone to headaches. Of those, 15% get tension headaches, and 5% have migraine, a neurological disorder.
Kids get headaches for many of the same reasons adults do. These include emotional reasons, like worry and anxiety, and physical reasons, like dehydration or hunger. Headache triggers can also include carrying a heavy backpack, hunching over a desk for hours, or needing eyeglasses.
Whatever the underlying cause, headaches can hinder a child’s ability to focus, affecting their performance at school.
If your child has chronic or frequent headaches, identifying their root cause can be beneficial. These tips can also help get rid of a headache in school.
The most common causes of dehydration in children are vomiting and diarrhea. Children don’t have to be sick, however, to get dehydrated. Kids are more prone to fluid and electrolyte imbalances than healthy adults.
Fluid loss from sweating and not drinking enough can quickly cause dehydration and symptoms like headaches, irritability, and fatigue.
Dehydration may quickly occur during the school day if kids don’t have easy access to water. It may also happen after recess or play periods when they’ve been highly active or when the weather is warm.
A 2017 study found that dehydration in children can cause deficits in cognitive performance and poor mood, which are both stressors that can lead to headaches. So it’s crucial for them to remain hydrated at school.
How much water do kids need?
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, on a typical day:
- Children ages 1 to 3 need approximately 4 cups of beverages daily, including water or milk.
- Children ages 4 to 8 need around 5 cups of water daily.
- Children 8 and older should be drinking 7 to 8 cups of water daily.
School rules vary. Ask your child’s teacher what accommodations can be made to ensure that children drink enough water during the day. This may include easy access to hydration stations, such as water fountains.
If your child is uncomfortable asking permission to leave their seat to drink, let them know that this is a health issue, and it’s OK. Younger children may benefit from parent-teacher communication about this concern.
Schools that participate in the National School Lunch Program or School Breakfast Program are required, by law, to supply free water to all students during meal times.
If your child’s school permits using water bottles at desks, send your child to school each day with a filled container they can sip from.
Left to their own devices, lots of kids would never get off their phones. In addition to those many hours of screen time, schools often rely on laptops and computer use at desks. Educational technology has clear upsides but also downsides, like headache-triggering eyestrain.
Poor posture from leaning over a device can also trigger neck, back, and head pain.
Instruct your child to take frequent breaks from staring at a screen to reduce technology-induced headaches. The American Optometric Association recommends taking a 20-second break every 20 minutes to look at something 20 feet away (the 20-20-20 rule).
To reduce eyestrain, find out whether the devices used in your child’s classroom have anti-glare screens or blue light filters. If not, consider getting a pair of blue-light-filtering eyeglasses for your child.
You should also have your child’s eyes checked by a pediatrician or an eye doctor to see whether they need prescription eyeglasses. Eyestrain can also occur when children have trouble focusing on small text while reading or faraway text at the front of the classroom. If your child already has prescription lenses, ensure they use them in class.
Fresh air and physical activity can help alleviate tension headaches. Moving their bodies allows children to stretch their muscles and promotes overall fitness.
If the air quality in your child’s school is questionable, spending time outside may help. Just make sure you don’t swap out a school-generated headache for a seasonal allergy one. If your child has allergies, make sure they take medication as prescribed by their pediatrician, or avoid the outdoors at peak pollen times.
Issues ranging from trouble learning math to dealing with bullies can cause stress, worry, and tension headaches. Relaxation techniques your child can use comfortably at school may help reduce headaches and other anxiety symptoms.
If you think anxiety is the cause of your child’s headaches at school, consider getting them a stress-release object like a stress ball that they can squeeze and release. There are lots of cute ones designed specifically for kids.
Sensory fidget toys can also help relieve stress.
To instruct your child in pretzel breathing, use these steps:
- criss-cross your hands at the wrist and clasp the fingers of each hand together
- fold your arms up and into your chest while breathing deeply
- unfold your arms back down while exhaling slowly
- repeat several times until you feel relaxed and calm
Acupressure is similar to acupuncture, except it relies on finger pressure instead of needling. Pressure points on the neck, head, hands, and shoulders can all be used to reduce headaches. Stimulating these pressure points is thought to eliminate blockages in the body’s energy pathways.
Headaches caused by sinus congestion or eyestrain may be alleviated by pressing down on both sides of the nose directly under the eyebrows. Instruct your child to hold this pressure with index fingers for about 10 seconds, release, and repeat.
Powering through a distracting headache may not be a good strategy, or even possible, in some instances. Let your child know that head pain is a viable reason for going to the nurse’s office to lie down. Your child can ask for a cold compress or warm compress to place on their forehead or the back of the neck:
- cold compresses alleviate headaches by numbing the area, which dulls pain
- warm compresses, either moist or dry, increase blood flow to the area and relax tense muscles
School nurses and other personnel are not allowed to give children any type of medication, OTC or prescribed, without your approval. There are emergency exceptions (like severe allergic reactions), although headaches wouldn’t typically fall into this category.
If you have given written permission for your child to get OTC pain meds, find out if you will be called first to troubleshoot or oversee the dosage.
If you prefer, you can also send your child to school with a premeasured dose of the medication, but the medication should be taken at the nurse’s office. Make sure the medication is secure and can’t be accessed by other children.
Make sure to follow the dosing recommendations precisely as they appear on the label unless their doctor has provided you with different instructions. Exceeding the recommended dose can cause side effects like stomach pain, vomiting, and irritability.
Medications commonly used for headache in children include:
- acetaminophen (Tylenol, other brands)
- ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil, other brands)
Aspirin, children’s aspirin, and aspirin-containing products are not recommended for children or adolescents. These medications can cause Reye’s syndrome, a rare but serious illness.
In some instances, your child may feel better if they take a quiet “time out” to rest in a quiet, dimly lit location. The nurse’s office may have a secured, secluded area.
Headaches and migraine episodes can cause heightened sensitivity to light and sound, exacerbating pain. During a headache, bright light and noise can increase pain. Eliminating exposure to these stimuli may help your child’s headache fade.
Most headaches are mild and will resolve on their own. But chronic or severe headaches warrant a trip to your child’s pediatrician. Give your pediatrician as much information as possible about your child’s headaches, including how often they happen, how severe the pain is, and whether they have any other symptoms, such as nausea or vomiting.
If your child’s headache presents with vision loss, weakness, or speech problems, seek emergency medical attention.
Headaches in children are common during the school day. Strategies that can help include using relaxation techniques, reducing screen time, and resting in a dimly lit area. Taking OTC pain medication may also help.
If your child has frequent headaches at school or at other times, identifying the root cause can be beneficial. Chronic headaches should be brought to the attention of your child’s healthcare professional.