How to Help Your Child With Their Panic Attacks

As a parent, the last thing you want is for your child to struggle with something you cannot fix. We want to be there for our kids and help them overcome their challenges — but this can be hard when we don’t know how to help. 

Unfortunately, many parents face this challenge when it comes to their kids having panic attacks. If you are unfamiliar with panic attacks yourself, it can be incredibly hard to understand how you can help your child during these overwhelming experiences. Even if you suffer from panic attacks, knowing how to best support your child can be challenging.

So, today we’ll talk a little bit about panic attacks for kids and how you can help your child cope with their panic attacks safely and healthily.

Common Symptoms of Panic Attacks

Signs and symptoms of panic attacks can vary from person to person. Additionally, symptoms children display may be different from symptoms that adults may feel when having panic attacks. Symptoms of panic attacks can be either physical or psychological (and many people, children included) experience both types of symptoms.

Some common physical symptoms of panic attacks include:

  • Chest pains and shortness of breath
  • Hyperventilating
  • Feeling light-headed, dizzy, or faint
  • Feeling nauseous or experiencing abdominal pain discomfort
  • Heart palpitations
  • Fluctuations in body temperature

Psychological symptoms typically include:

  • Feeling trapped or unable to escape from a certain situation
  • Feeling as if they have lost control of their own body
  • Overwhelm or the inability to process information

Typically, panic attacks only last a few minutes, but the symptoms surrounding them can lead to additional worry and stress, which can create a dangerous cycle of panic. This is especially common in children or individuals who have never experienced a panic attack before.

Causes of Panic Attacks in Children

Just like with adults, there are a number of factors that determine whether or not a child will have panic attacks. As we know, most mental health conditions can be hard to pinpoint to a single cause, but a few factors may increase your child’s chances of having panic attacks.

Some of these factors include:

  • Genetic factors — such as having a relative who suffers from panic attacks
  • Existing mental health conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, depression, or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Low self-esteem 
  • Being exposed to something they fear
  • Short-term periods of intense emotions — such as following the loss of a family member or loved one
  • Use of certain substances, like caffeine

How You Can Help Your Child Cope With Panic Attacks

If you know someone who suffers from panic attacks or you suffer from them yourself, then you know that finding the best way to cope with panic attacks is a very personal process. Not all solutions work for everyone, and not everyone wants the same type of support. This is normal — after all, we are all different people. 

But, if your child is struggling with panic attacks, you may wonder what you can do to be there and help them through this challenging experience. So, here, we’ll explore some tips for helping you help your child cope with these experiences.

Stay in Control of Your Own Feelings

The first (and possibly most important) tip we can give you is to stay in control. When we see our children upset, getting worried and upset is natural. But this is where you need to double down and show your child you are in control of yourself.

When your child is having a panic attack, they likely feel like they have lost control of their body. This can be incredibly scary for a child, especially if they have just begun to get panic attacks. So, try to stay calm during the duration of the panic attack. 

Talk your child through it, remind them to take deep breaths, and reassure them that the panic attack will pass. If your child finds physical touch comforting, you can hold their hand or hug them as they slowly regain control of themselves. Keep in mind that not all children will find this comforting, however, so it is important to discuss what is the most comforting for your child with them to avoid making the experience worse.

Teach Them About Panic Attacks

Sometimes simply knowing about something can make it way less scary — especially for children. Taking the time to teach your child about panic attacks can help dispel some of their fears when they are actually experiencing the attack. Make sure you tell your child that panic attacks are common and they are not dangerous — even if they may feel like they are. Many kids worry that other people will think something is wrong with them or that a panic attack is a sign of a larger problem that could be harmful.

Reassure them that panic attacks are, in reality, very short, and even if they seem never-ending, they will always end. If you suffer from panic attacks yourself, or you have a close friend or family member who does, it may be a good idea to share first-hand experience with your children as well. When kids learn that other people (especially people they know) have found a way to deal with something, they typically find it much easier to cope in their own way as well.

Work on Slow Breathing Exercises

When your child has a panic attack, their breathing naturally quickens — this is a natural response to our fight-or-flight response being triggered. This can lead to feelings of dizziness and chest pains as well as increase our heart rate — all of which are considered physical symptoms of a panic attack. So, by teaching your child how to control and slow down their breathing, you can help them counter these physical symptoms and calm down from panic attacks more quickly. 

Try having your child inhale through their nose for 3 seconds, hold the breath for 2 seconds, and then exhale for 3 seconds. Ask them to repeat this exercise until they feel their heartbeat slow down and they feel in control of their bodies again.

Shift Their Focus

In other words, distract them. One great thing about our minds is that we can really only think about one thing at a time. Many of us may think we can multitask, but realistically, we can only process one thing at a time. While this can be inconvenient at times, when it comes to coping with panic attacks, this can actually be to your advantage.

Encourage your child to focus their thoughts on something that they find comforting. This could be a family pet, a favorite toy, an activity they enjoy, or even a picture of a good memory. You can also work with your child to create a “safe space” or “happy place” in their head where they can go when they feel panicky. Directing your child’s thoughts to something comforting can be a great way to prevent negative spiraling thoughts and help them calm down.

Work Against Negative Thinking

Often, panic attacks can introduce (or result from) a swarm of negative thoughts. These thoughts can fuel that negative panic cycle and cause even more panic. While your child may have difficulty challenging negative thoughts during a panic attack, it can be very helpful as a parent to help them challenge these thoughts. Remind them that these unhelpful thoughts are simply thoughts — not facts. Remind them of the facts. 

For example, if your child is having a panic attack and experiencing abdominal pain, their negative thoughts may make them think that there is something wrong with their stomach. This thought may spiral and lead them to believe that they are dying. In this case, you can remind them that they thought this same thing the last time they were having an attack, and it was not true.

Encourage Them to Face Their Fears

If your child is experiencing panic attacks because of certain situations, experiences, or things, it is a good idea to work on exposing them to these things gradually. Unfortunately, it is quite challenging to avoid things altogether in life, so if you can work with your child and encourage them to face these fears slowly (and safely), they may be able to overcome the attacks completely in those types of situations.

As you work with them through these fears, it is crucial to offer lots of support and encouragement and reassure them that they do not have to face these things alone. Remind them that you are there for them.

It is also common for children to worry that they will experience another panic attack — which can lead to them avoiding all situations and activities that they think may trigger another attack. As a parent, you must remind them that avoiding these things will not solve the problem, and it may worsen their panic attacks.

Talk to A Professional

All of the strategies mentioned above can be a great way to help you better support your child. But, if you find yourself still struggling to help your child cope with panic attacks or they continue experiencing severe and persistent attacks, it may be best to seek professional help. Talking to a professional therapist can help you identify the underlying causes for your child’s panic attacks as well as discover the best solutions for their needs.’

So, if your child is suffering from panic attacks, please do not hesitate to reach out to us at Love Heal Grow today to get in touch with one of our therapists.


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