Protective parenting behavior is associated with significantly greater frequency of adolescent headaches, according to study results published in Headache.

Previous studies have shown that adolescent pain severity and pain-related disability are greater when parents report more frequent protective parenting behaviors. The connection, however, between headache frequency and parenting style has not yet been evaluated.

Study researchers sought to determine if parent factors are predictive of increased adolescent headache frequency and related disability in children. To accomplish this, they conducted a longitudinal study, analyzing secondary data from 221 families. Included youths were 11-17 years of age (average age, 14±1.9 years) and experienced at least 10 headaches per month for over 3 months. Parents self-reported parent factors, such as headache history, protective parenting behaviors, and parental catastrophizing, which was defined as negative thoughts and feelings about their adolescent’s pain.

At the 6-month follow-up, greater parental catastrophizing at baseline was a significant predictor of greater adolescent headache-related disability (P =.029) and adolescent headache frequency (P =.042). Parent headache frequency, parent headache-related disability, and protective parenting behaviors at baseline were not significant predictors of longitudinal adolescent headache-related disability, whereas protective parenting behavior was a significant predictor for increased adolescent headache frequency (P =.026).


The results of this study suggested that parent behavior impacts the frequency of headaches and headache-related disability in their children. Study researchers also found that increased adolescent headache-related disability at baseline was predictive of a small increase in protective parenting behavior (P =.009) and parental catastrophizing (P =.016), suggesting a bidirectional, longitudinal relationship. This suggested that psychological treatment targeting parental distress and behaviors in conjunction with headache treatment for the adolescents may improve outcomes for youths with recurrent headache.

Limitations to this study include the small to medium effect sizes found, which should be interpreted with caution, and the need to replicate results to ensure accuracy. Additionally, the limited demographics, the use of secondary data analysis, and the relatively small number of assessment time points limits the generalizability of this study.

Study researchers concluded that “screening for parent distress and protective parenting behaviors, and delivering family-based psychosocial interventions targeting adolescent and parent treatment needs is deserving of further attention by clinicians and researchers.”


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