Panic Attacks in Children

Panic Attacks in Children

Children, like adults, are vulnerable to panic attacks, and you can save your child from a lifetime of suffering by recognizing the signs early. This article will help you understand panic attacks in children.
PsycholoGenie Staff
Children and adolescents suffer from panic attacks due to pressure and tension from family and peers. Kids may experience fear and discomfort that can be real or a part of their imagination. Moreover, they cannot express their feelings to their parents, building up more stress, which results into panic attacks.
Parents think that kids are safe from all the problems and stress that life has to offer. They just have to concentrate on their studies and their future. Childhood is thought as the most comfortable phase of life, but things are a bit different in today's world. Kids are growing faster than their age and they are under pressure in all walks of their life. They need to be the best among their siblings and friends, more competitive athletically, and also maintain their image socially. These factors may lead to social anxiety.
Just as all the fingers on a hand are not similar, kids too have different abilities to cope up with stress. They have an innocent mind that is easily influenced by family problems, like parental fights, divorce, monetary struggles of the family, etc. They store these anxieties that may be real or imagined by their minds, which can burst out as panic attacks.
Causes
Panic attack in young kids is a sudden episode of intense fear. This fear is developed without any specific reason, and it triggers physical reactions that are very severe. These attacks that happen frequently may develop into a chronic generalized anxiety disorder. They may last for a few minutes or even for a few hours.
Identifying the cause is the main step in treating panic attacks, thought it may not be very simple, as there are a number of things that may lead to it. These causes may be environmental or genetic. Family history may also be one of the several causes panic attacks.
Children and adolescents respond to trauma in their life with fear. They may develop a phobia due to a simple fear of the dog or a major car accident. Kids facing some scary events, like physical, emotional, or sexual abuse, in their life also develop symptoms of panic attacks. The trauma may also cause post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in children.
Studies have shown that 50% of the children suffering from this problem have a relative who has suffered from it in the past, so the cause might also be genetic. Certain chemicals in their bodies may have a negative reaction with their nervous system, causing their brain to react with anxiety. Endocrinal disorders, neurological diseases, infection, or lung disease may also lead to panic attacks.
Anxiety and panic attacks in children are mostly seen during their late teenage years, while they are definitely not unheard of in young kids. Divorce, moving to a new home or city, death of a sibling or parent, etc., may also lead to this problem.
Symptoms
  • Crying inconsolably due to fear
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Shortness of breath, like being strangled, which may develop into an asthma attack
  • Feeling of choking
  • Sweating
  • The child feels he/she is going to die or go mad
  • Numbness or tingling anywhere in the body
  • Nausea
  • Fear of leaving home, may also develop agoraphobia
  • Helplessness, as the child is unable to stop these attacks
These symptoms also accompany some change in their behavior, such as:
  • Gets startled easily and is always on guard
  • Their appetite is affected and they tend to eat less
  • They lose their attention easily and find it difficult to concentrate
  • They suffer from regular stomach and headaches
  • Their performance in school is affected miserably
  • They cannot fall asleep and have frequent nightmares
  • The activities that were once their favorite no longer excite them anymore
  • The child speaks of death frequently and always wishes to be dead
Panic attacks in young kids are often experienced during certain time of the day. This makes the child more fearful of a possible attack occurring around that time. These attacks can happen when the child leaves for school, before a test, during bedtime, or during any other regular activity he/she follows.
Treatment
The treatment is similar to the treatment used for adults. You should visit a doctor and understand the causes of panic attack in your child. Treatment for panic attacks includes the following methods:
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT):
    CBT helps children understand the causes of fear in their minds and teaches them ways to cope with them. They are taught special skills to control a panic attack when they feel that it is approaching. Family therapy can also be followed. The whole family is involved in the treatment, which makes the child more confident as a result of family support.
  • Medication:
    Based on the level of panic attacks, the child may be prescribed low strength tranquilizers. Antidepressants may also be prescribed, as they help in adjusting the cause that may lead to a panic attack.
  • Confrontation:
    The child is made to feel confident and asked to confront his/her fears. This helps him/her to overcome the fear, and thus helps in reducing, and eventually getting stopping, the attacks.
If your child is suffering from panic attacks, it is very important to reassure him/her that they are not crazy. Speak to your kid about his/her fears in a friendly tone. Do not force him/her to talk if he/she is not ready to speak about it. Understand and support your child to help him/her overcome this problem. Tell your kid repeatedly that the attacks are not their fault. Keep in touch with their teachers, baby sitters, etc., who care about the health of the child. Cut off the caffeine intake of your child, as it may trigger an attack. You should remain on alert for any suicidal tendencies your kid may exhibit and seek professional help immediately. A serious panic attack plays havoc in the child's normal life. He/she may fall prey to alcohol, drug abuse, and depression in his/her teenage years as he/she cannot cope up with the attacks. They may occur once or twice in a lifetime. If there are frequent attacks, then they may develop into personality disorders and phobias, wreaking your kid's future life. Therefore, you should take extra care and seek medical advice immediately if you suspect panic attacks in you child.
Disclaimer: This article is for informative purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for the advice of a mental health expert.