The objectives of the present study were: (i) to estimate the prevalence of recurrent headaches in schoolchildren (ranging from 2nd to 5th degrees) in Mersin city of Turkey; (ii) to determine the sensitivity, specificity, positive predictive value and positive likelihood ratio of the diagnostic headache characteristics in children with migraine and tension-type headache (TTH) using neurologist's diagnosis as the gold standard. The stratified sample of study was composed of 5562 children. The prevalence of recurrent headache was 49.2% (2739 of 5562) and the prevalence of current headache was 31.3% (859 of 2739). TTH was more common than migraine (24.7% vs. 10.4%). The most sensitive headache characteristic for migraine was 'severity of pain' and the most sensitive definitive symptom was 'duration of headache' in children with TTH. International Headache Society-based symptom definition criteria are highly beneficial in diagnosis of childhood headache, if used together with detailed clinical assessment.