Anxiety attacks, formally known as panic attacks, are scary. As a parent, it can be extremely devastating to witness your child experience a panic attack and as a child or a teenager, a panic attack can feel life-threatening.  Many describe panic attacks as feeling as though a room is closing in on them or feeling as though they are having a heart attack or that they may die. Panic attacks can be triggered by specific things or may occur suddenly for no reason.  Panic disorder is a type of anxiety disorder and is diagnosed if your child suffers at least two unexpected panic or anxiety attacks followed by at least one month of concern over having another attack.

Signs and symptoms associated with anxiety attacks

  • Feeling of imminent danger or doom
  • The need to escape
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Sweating
  • Trembling
  • Shortness of breath or a smothering feeling
  • Feeling of choking
  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Nausea or abdominal discomfort
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Sense of things being unreal, depersonalization
  • Fear of losing control or “going crazy”
  • Fear of dying
  • Tingling sensations
  • Chills or hot flushes

Teach your children about panic attacks

Anxiety attacks usually last for about 10-15 minutes however it can feel like a lifetime for both you and your child.  After your child has his or her first panic attack, it is important to educate them on the signs and symptoms associated with panic attacks so if another one occurs, they can understand what is happening. Teach your children that panic attacks are a false alarm in their bodies. Let them know the physical sensations associated with a panic attack so that when they experience them, it won’t be as scary.

Tips and tricks to help your child during an anxiety attack

There are some techniques that have been shown to help while a teenager or child is experiencing a panic attack. It is just as important to learn not what to do as what to do during these scary moments.

  • Avoid minimizing their distress: Anxiety attacks are scary. Avoid telling your child “you are okay” when in reality, they do not feel as they are okay. It is important to practice empathy during these situations. Say something like  “I know you don’t feel okay. Having a panic attack can feel scary. I will help get you through this and it will end soon.”
  • Remind your child that panic attacks always end
  • Help distract them: There are many tools and techniques that can be used to help an individual be distracted during a panic attack. Exercise, playing a game, looking at photos on a phone, eating a snack, using ice packs to cool down the body, positive reinforcing thoughts, breathing techniques, muscle relation, taking a shower or a bath, watching a favorite show or browsing social media are all techniques that can be used to distract your son or daughter during a panic attack.
  • Help them avoid the panic attack trap: Once a child has a panic attack they will become fearful of having another one and will avoid activities and situations that they feel could trigger another attack. As a result, your son or daughter may try to avoid school, social activities, family events, sports and may even fear leaving their own home. As a parent, it is important to teach them that by avoiding these things, the worse the anxiety will become and therefore it is important to face these situations regardless.

Seeking professional help

Seeking professional help can help you and your child gain knowledge about the tools and techniques used to prevent and manage anxiety attacks. A trained professional may have insight on why your child is having panic attacks, however there may not be a specific reason or trigger. Additionally a trained professional can teach certain techniques such as exposure therapy and relaxation techniques to help your son or daughter overcome panic attacks. Although there are medications known to help panic disorders, they are not recommended for children due to the side effects, therefore these disorders are best managed with therapy and knowledge.