panic attack symptoms in kids

How to Tell if Your Child is Having a Panic Attack

As a parent, few things are scarier or more stressful than seeing your child sick. When that illness is mental, parents can feel completely helpless. To make matters worse, mental illness sometimes looks different in children and adolescents than in adults. So, it can be hard for parents to recognize what’s happening with their children. Instead, they just know that something is wrong. If your child has mental health symptoms intermittently, it could be panic attacks. Be sure to learn about panic attacks in children and teens.

Symptoms of Panic Attacks

When it comes to minors, preteens and teens are most likely to have panic attacks. However, children of all ages can develop anxiety and panic disorder. Many of the symptoms are similar to what adults feel during a panic attack, including a feeling like something bad is going to happen and racing thoughts. Of course, it can be difficult to identify these symptoms from the outside, especially if the child has a hard time expressing these feelings. Some signs of panic attacks in children that parents can notice include:

  • Sweating palms
  • Shortness of breath
  • Seeming “spaced out”
  • Scared expression
  • Excessive crying
  • Complaining of stomach pains
  • Tense muscles

Panic attacks generally last for short periods, about 30 minutes to an hour. However, every person’s experience is different. After an episode, children and teens may seem worried that it will happen again, which is a sign of panic attacks.

Why Do Children Have Panic Attacks?

There’s no single cause for panic attacks in children, and they can happen to anyone. However, some factorsincrease the likelihood of a child having a panic attack, including:

  • Family history of mental disorders
  • Personal history of panic, even if it does not meet the criteria for diagnosis
  • Asthma or other respiratory disorders
  • Significant changes or stress in life
  • Uncharacteristic aggression or anger

Some teens develop panic disorder as a result of the stress and hormones that come with being a teen. Other children may panic after experiencing trauma. However, these episodes may be related to PTSD rather than panic disorder. 

How You Can Help

If your child has panic attacks, you may not be as helpless as you feel. Knowing a few calming strategies and using them to help your child in the middle of an episode can shorten or stop a panic attack. Write down some of these strategies and use them as needed:

1) Stay Calm

In the middle of you child’s panic attack, try to seem calm on the outside. If your kid senses that you feel nervous about the situation, it may feed into the panic and makes things worse. 

2) Identify Their Feelings

A child or teen in the middle of a panic attack may believe that they are dying. Although they can identify emotions they know, like sad or happy, panic may be too difficult to understand. Tell your child that although they feel scared, it is a trick in the mind. Validate the feeling without giving into to the fear. 

3) Breathe Together

Deep breaths serve two important functions during a panic attack– they calm one of the most unnerving symptoms (shallow breathing) while taking focus away from the fears. Model deep breaths and ask you child to copy you. Breathe in through your nose, hold the breath, then breathe out through the mouth for about five seconds each step. Finally, the best thing you can do to help your child is seek professional guidance. The counselors and therapists at LifeStance Health can help you and your family find peace. We can help your child address the underlying problems that cause panic attacks and learn coping mechanisms to help during difficult times. LifeStance Health can also give parents the tools to support their children in healing.

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