Panic attacks are very common in both adults and children. But the expression and scenario are different for both of them. Adults can share their feelings with the nearest one perfectly but panic attacks make children irritable, anxious, or angry. Though panic attacks in childhood are not life-threatening, they can be terrifying, especially if the child or parents are inexperienced with them.
What is Childhood Panic Attack?
Childhood panic attacks are feelings of a specific period that may include experiencing severe fear or terror, difficulty breathing, chest pain or tightness, heartbeat changes, dizziness, sweating, and shaking of the body. It can last from minutes to hours. Sometimes it can make the sufferer feel like having a heart attack, collapsing, losing control, or even dying. That is why, parents need to identify panic attacks and act immediately and accordingly instead of ignoring their irritable, anxious, or angry feelings.
Children’s Panic Attacks Symptoms
Panic attacks mostly develop without any warning signs and put a heavy toll on children both psychologically and physically. Psychological symptoms may vary from child to child. But common symptoms of children’s panic attacks are –
- a suffocating sensation
- a sense of unreality, weak, dizziness, or light-headed
- a strong desire to flee or avoid the situation
- a fear of “becoming insane”
- losing control sensation
- feeling extremely hot or extremely cold
- disconnection from oneself
- imminent danger
- a fear of dying
When a child experience such psychological chaos, it is unfeasible to expect a clear message about their feelings. Because they cannot express what they are feeling exactly. In such a situation, parents have another option to identify childhood panic attacks by observing their physical symptoms. Physical symptoms can swiftly accumulate during panic attacks. That is why panic attacks in childhood are more sensitive and must be responded to control them without any delay. Children’s panic attacks symptoms may include the following behavior –
- a racing or pounding heartbeat
- crushing pain in the chest or abdomen
Childhood panic attacks and their symptoms appear suddenly and might arise from any condition (calm or a disturbed condition). Most children get limited symptoms of panic episodes, which include fewer than four of the above-mentioned psychological and physical symptoms.
Most of cases sudden panic attacks in childhood can last less than twenty minutes, with the majority of them peaking within the first ten minutes. But, in some cases, panic attacks can happen several times within a few hours, even if they can happen every day or once a week. Teenagers who suffer from panic attacks frequently should learn to recognize the actions that set them off and handle the episodes smoothly.
However, in cases of panic attacks in childhood, the duty is usually on parents to teach their children to overcome and handle these panic attacks. Most importantly, they should be careful enough as these panic attacks should not convert to childhood panic disorder.
Childhood Panic Attacks & Childhood Panic Disorder
Panic attacks are feelings of a specific period that may include experiencing severe fear or terror, difficulty breathing, chest pain or tightness, heartbeat changes, dizziness, sweating, and shaking of the body. But, when panic attacks happen frequently (every day or once a week, or more frequently), they may convert into childhood panic disorder. It is a curable mental health problem. Simply, panic disorder is characterized by recurrent, unexpected panic attacks.
Though panic attacks in childhood are very normal but frequent attacks can lead to devastating complications. It is badly affecting children and teenagers’ physical and mental growth. That is why childhood panic attack symptoms should be recognized as early as possible to prevent a child from having a persistent fear of having further attacks or suffering from childhood panic disorder.
Just after identifying childhood panic attack symptoms, parents should contact a qualified practitioner for seeking professional help. They can detect a clear cause that triggers panic attacks in childhood. Also, a skilled expert can show the strategies like therapy and relaxation techniques to help them to prevent childhood panic disorder.
Reasons for Increase in the Childhood Panic Attacks
According to the National Institute of Health, anxiety disease affects roughly one-third of all teenagers aged 13 to 18. And the last decades, childhood panic attacks and childhood panic disorder increased and went up to 20%. In a study, the Anxiety & Depression Association of America (ADAA) found that at present anxiety disorders are the most frequent mental disease in the United States, impacting 40 million persons aged 18 and over, or 18.1 percent of the population, each year.
What exactly is the reason behind this? A lot of things might be responsible for increasing childhood panic attacks. Among all factors the genetics, brain chemistry, personality, family history, high ambitions & expectations, as well as specific events are some most common factors that should be taken into consideration:
Higher Expectations & Pressure:
This is the most common reason for Childhood Panic Attacks. Parents are always pushing their children to achieve targeted goals. That is why they always feel pressure to succeed from the primary stages of their life. Most of the cases, it leads to childhood anxiety disorder and sudden panic attacks.
Internal Family Relation:
For any child, family is the first and most important school in the world. They learn to love from their parents and family members. If parents are always shouting or quarreling with each other in front of their children, definitely it will badly impact their children’s minds. They feel scared or upset. That is why not only parents, every family member should be polite and give respect to each other to prevent childhood mental disorders. At present divorce is one of the mentionable reasons for an increase in childhood panic disorder.
The common fear of something like going to school, participating in exams, going to a camp or party, or a new place might also be the reason for childhood panic attacks. These are normal and almost 90% child face these types of panic attacks. When children are trying to hide their fear, they may experience anxiety and panic attacks.
Social media is a very strong factor to increase panic attacks in childhood. Today, children and adults both are connected to different social media and they are very responsive to every post. Whenever they found any good or bad posts on their network, start comparing their lifestyle and position with the post. That ultimately leads to childhood anxiety and depression.
Bereavement and loss:
Sudden loss of family members like parents, grandparents, or close ones can also lead to panic attacks in childhood, even if it may convert to childhood panic disorder. Bereavement is a short-term emotional trigger and this trigger can affect children’s mental health.
At present unexpected terrorist activities increases in schools and colleges. In recent times, a couple of terrorist attacks happen in schools in the United States, which affects children’s mental growth. Not only in the USA but other countries of the world also face the same terrorist attacks regularly.
Whatever the reason, it may lead to serious mental health problems like depression, substance abuse, and suicide. It can also lead to learning issues that have lifelong impacts. Children may also face physical health problems like digestive problems, heart-related problems, and chronic pain too, because of panic attacks.
Childhood Panic Attacks & Childhood Anxiety Attacks
Childhood panic attacks and Childhood anxiety attacks are often used in words interchangeably, however, they are not the same, medically speaking. The main difference is a panic attack is usually sudden and over quickly (last 5 to 20 minutes), and an anxiety attack usually builds up and is long-lasting.
Panic attacks are characterized by problematic signs and symptoms such as a racing heart, breathing difficulty, dizziness, sweating, or shaking of the body. On the other hand, whenever tension, anxiety, or stress become excessive, an anxiety attack begins. The attack is the outcome of long-term stress that reaches a critical point.
Childhood Anxiety Attacks Symptoms
Childhood panic attacks and anxiety attacks both have common bonds for a lot of mental and physical symptoms. Even, an anxiety attack and a panic attack might occur at the same moment simultaneously.
Physically detectable most common childhood anxiety symptoms are –
- accelerated heart rate
- chest pain/ shortness of breath
- tightness in the throat
- dry mouth
- chills or hot flashes
- trembling or shaking
- nausea, abdominal pain, or upset stomach
These are merely symptoms that can be used to determine a person’s physical condition. Psychological symptoms are also crucial in determining whether or not childhood anxiety –
- Restlessness or feeling like choking
- Fear, feeling faint or dizzy
Maybe study pressure, facing difficulty, adjusting to new environments or uncertainty cause overwhelming anxiety in the child. If anxiety develops and runs for a long time it may convert into anxiety disorders. However, Anxiety disorders are normal, curable medical illnesses that strike one out of every eight children in the United States.
Tips for Parents to Avoid Panic and Anxiety Disorder in Childhood
At home, parents may assist the child by being supportive and empathetic. They should be positive about their children’s activities and should not react instantly to doing anything bad. They should counsel in a calm situation. If the child becomes agitated or anxious, parents must be cool and talk to them about it.
Parents must refrain from scolding the child for making mistakes in academics or failing to make progress. Higher expectations and willingness to be a perfectionist create an anxious environment for them.
It is pivotal to appreciate the children for doing something right. Even minor achievements must be acknowledged. Appreciate them by clamping your hand and praising them for all their good works. It will inspire your child to do good in life.
Parents must allow and allocate plenty of additional time for their children. They should play with them regularly and talk about different learning issues. They must counsel and go with them if they found a child’s anxiety makes going to school in the morning is hard.
While parents should protect child’s privacy, they should provide instructors and coaches with the information they need to understand what’s going on.
Most importantly, parents should always be there to listen when the child expresses their anxiety to them. Because they believe adults won’t understand. Most often, children with anxiety disorders try to hide their anxieties. So, it should be made clear to the children that parents are available to listen anytime they’re ready to speak.
Nowadays mental health practitioners are available and research a lot more about childhood anxiety disorder than they did in the past. Whatever type of panic and anxiety problem the child is going through, parents should seek help from a skilled therapist who can assist them.
How Parents Can Help Children During Panic Attacks
Parents may assist their children to deal with panic episodes by doing a variety of things.
Be aware of the signs and symptoms
You should notice all the changing behaviors and habits of your child.
- Fears and worries about their everyday life activities
- Changes in behavior like irritability and dizziness
- Avoiding activities like school and social interactions
- Trouble in sleeping
- Changes in eating habits
- Substance abuse and risky behaviors
- Physical complaints like headaches, stomachaches, and fatigue
Teach them to Stay in Control
When your child is having a panic attack, they have a loss of control. During the panic attack, you should try to talk to your child and make them calm. Try to rub their hands so that the panic attack should be over soon. Also give them time and space to calm down.
Breathing Exercises During Attack
Breathing exercise is the most effective method to reduce panic attacks instantly. Explain to your child that panic attacks can increase their breath and heart rate. Teach them to slow down their breath and try to calm down when they are having panic attacks. By learning breathing exercises, it’s easy for you and your children to pass panic attacks more quickly.
Teach your child to overcome fear
Encourage your children to face their fears. Your children have panic attacks because of certain situations and objects. Try to teach your child that these fears are irrational. Give them encouragement and praise during the panic attacks and try to release their anxiety.
Learn to Avoid Negative Thinking
Negative thinking during panic attacks also increases the level of anxiety, like loss of control, fear of death, going crazy, and so on. It is very important to keep your child away from these types of negative thinking. Because this thinking may increase panicking. Try to counsel them everything is okay; nothing will happen badly with them.
Shift their Focus
Try to divert their focus and divert them to concentrate on something else. Encourage them to think about the things and places that feel them safe and happy. Learn them to develop a happy place in their mind.
Get Help from Professionals
- Ask a question and get an answer from a verified expert doctor on Ask A Doctor, the leading expert question and answer website featuring doctors.
To support your child, get help from a professional therapist and counselor. There are a variety of treatments that can help your children to get out of the severe anxiety symptoms that lead to panic attacks such as:
Focuses on changing the thoughts and behaviors like what are the fears of the child and how to make them come out of them.
There are a variety of medicines that are prescribed by professionals to treat anxiety disorders and panic attacks in children.