Parental pop quiz: your kid comes home from school with a stomachache — do you limit their Flamin’ Hot Cheetos intake or head straight to the pediatrician’s office?
Being a parent is anything but easy, but trying to treat your child’s mysterious aches and pains can be particularly tricky; especially since kids seem to get sick so often, thanks to a developing immune system and an insatiable curiosity about the surrounding world.
As author Mary Ruebush writes in her book, Why Dirt Is Good, “What a child is doing when he puts things in his mouth is allowing his immune response to explore his environment. Not only does this allow for ‘practice’ of immune responses, which will be necessary for protection, but it also plays a critical role in teaching the immature immune response what is best ignored.”
While this kind of exploration is necessary and important, it means kids can get sick a lot and it can be tough to know how to distinguish run-of-the-mill symptoms from something serious. We asked our pediatric specialists to break down how parents can handle four of the most common kid complaints:
1. Headaches – Sara Huberman, a San Francisco doctor
“Children of all ages can have headaches — sometimes they’re related to an illness, like a cold or stomach bug, and sometimes they’re not. Most of the time, they’re mild and will resolve by making changes in your child’s daily routine since they can commonly be triggered by dehydration, too little sleep, skipped meals or snacks, or too much stress. Sometimes, if a child needs glasses, they can even get a headache from eye strain, and they may be more prone to developing migraines, even at a young age, if someone in the family gets them.
Keeping a headache diary can help guide your child’s provider in figuring out what type of headache they have and what may be triggering them. Diaries can track the timing of headaches and include additional symptoms like a runny nose, nausea, or dizziness, and associated activities and foods eaten prior to the headache onset. There are also a few red flags you can monitor for: headaches that worsen in intensity or frequency, interfere with normal play or activity, wake a child up from sleep, or cause change in mood or behavior. It’s a very low probability that headaches without any other symptoms are due to something dangerous, but any child who starts having them should be seen by their doctor.”