- 2 mins
What Is a Panic Attack? Tips for Parents
When you think of a panic attack, you might picture an adult having a heart-pounding, sweaty, and overwhelming fear reaction. But children can have panic attacks, too. A panic attack is a sudden episode of intense fear or discomfort that can include a racing heart, sweating, shaking, shortness of breath, feeling dizzy, tingling or numbing sensations, chest pain, and nausea.
According to Cackovic et al. (2022), panic attacks “peak in early adulthood” and have a low prevalence in children under 14. Still, some children experience panic attacks, so it is good to understand how to manage these intense feelings during an episode.
In addition to the possible symptoms described above, a child having a panic attack may say they feel like they’re going to die, have a heart attack, or pass out. Panic attacks can be very frightening for children and their caregivers. It is important to remember that a panic attack is not a sign of mental illness but rather a reaction to stress. A child may have a panic attack in response to a real or perceived threat.
Curious about the difference between a panic attack and an anxiety attack? Click here!
In the past, it was more common for parents to tell children to “get over” certain feelings. These days, we have learned that all feelings and emotions are valid and important. We want to acknowledge that our child just went through a scary experience and speak with them about it once they seem calm and in control of their emotions again. If they don’t seem to want to talk about it, you could ask your child if they would like to draw or write what they felt.
It is also a good time to teach our children what is in our control versus what is out of our control. Panic attacks are not in our control, but we can increase our coping mechanisms to help support us through these circumstances. Bring your child into the conversation and ask them what calming strategies seem most helpful. You could ask them if they want to create a type of “panic box” of soothing fidget toys and activities, to have on hand should they ever have another panic attack.
If your child is experiencing signs of frequent or severe panic attacks, it’s essential to talk to their doctor. Treatments are available that can help your child feel better and manage their anxiety.
Cackovic, C., Nazir, S., & Marwah, R. Panic disorder. (2002). In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing.