panic attack symptoms in kids

Signs of Panic Attacks in Children

When children are sick, it can be terrifying for everyone who loves them. Whether the illness is physical or mental, parents can feel helpless and scared. Sometimes, the first step in helping a child through an illness is getting a diagnosis, so you know what to do next.

With mental illness, the process of getting a diagnosis in children can be difficult. First of all, many people don’t realize that children and teens can develop some of the same mental disorders that adults have. Secondly, symptoms of mental illness sometimes look different in minors.

Parents who notice intermittent mental health problems in their children that come in short bursts may consider the possibility that the child is having panic attacks.

What Causes Panic Attacks in Children?

Like in adults, the causes for panic attacks in children can be complicated. Some people have panic attacks because of a chemical imbalance in their brains while others have them as a reaction to chronic stress. While there’s no singular cause for pediatric panic attacks, a few risk factors can increase the likelihood:

  • Family history of mental disorders
  • Personal history with anxiety, even if it does not meet diagnostic standards
  • Stressful situations or significant changes in life
  • Asthma and other breathing disorders

Some situations that may cause panic attacks in children and teens include divorce, death of a loved one, stress at school, bullying, and moving. However, these things do not cause panic disorder in all children, so parents should avoid blaming themselves.

What Do Pediatric Panic Attacks Look Like?

Although panic attacks are rare in young children, they can happen. Adolescents and preteens are more likely to have panic attacks than their younger siblings. At any age, panic attacks typically come with the feeling of impending dread and racing thoughts.

Unfortunately, it can be difficult for parents and other outsiders to know when children and teens have these thoughts. Instead, you must rely on outward symptoms, such as:

  • Shallow breathing
  • Excessive sweating
  • Crying or worried expression
  • A “spaced out” expression
  • Complaining of stomach aches or muscle pains
  • Aggression, anger, or frustration

If these episodes are panic attacks, they typically last no longer than 30 minutes to an hour. However, the timing of panic attacks looks different on everyone. Panic attacks also cause patients to feel nervous about it happening again.

How Can Parents Help Children with Panic Disorder?

The good news about panic disorder is that it is treatable, and parents can help. If your child has panic attacks, be sure to write down a few helpful strategies and carry them with you. That way, in the middle of the episode, you can refer to the strategies and help. These methods can help shorten or stop panic attacks:

    • Remain Calm: If you panic, you will feed into the idea that there is something bad happening. That’s why it’s important to stay calm, even though this may feel impossible when your child is in so much pain.
  • Give the Feeling a Name: Sometimes, one of the most terrifying things about a panic attack is that it is unfamiliar. Simply giving your child a name for the feeling, and telling them that it is a trick in the mind can help. Remember to validate the feelings, but do not give into the fears. 
  • Practice Deep Breaths: Focusing on deep breaths can take the child’s focus from the fears and also return their breath to a safe pace. Model deep breathing for your child and ask them to do it with you. Breathe in through the nose, hold it, and breathe out through the mouth for about five seconds each.

If you believe your child is having panic attacks, one of the best things you can do to help is to seek professional treatment. The compassionate mental health professionals at LifeStance Health can help identify your child’s triggers, develop healthy coping mechanisms, and give parents tools to help.