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How to Treat Panic Attacks in Children

How to Treat Panic Attacks in Children

How to Treat Panic Attacks in Children

Panic attacks in children is confusing and frustrating for children and parents alike.Over three million Americans will experience panic disorder in their lifetime, but panic attacks in children can be particularly disconcerting. Panic disorder can be difficult to diagnose in children, as they often report the physical symptoms rather than the psychological ones. Panic disorder can also commonly be confused with a phobia, which is a predictable, irrational reaction to a specific object or situation. Panic disorder is characterized by its unpredictability, and requires immediate attention and treatment to ensure the disorder does not begin to deteriorate areas of a child’s life.

How to Tell if Your Child is Having Panic Attacks

The first step to treating panic attacks in children is to determine whether your child is actually experiencing them. Many parents are unsure of how to tell if their child’s outbursts are out of control or simply a normal part of childhood. Panic attacks generally come out of nowhere, and seem unprovoked. Children having a panic attack will often suddenly become frightened or upset with no easily identifiable cause, making their behavior confusing to others. Some of the most common symptoms to watch for include:

  • Trembling/shaking
  • Racing/pounding heartbeat
  • Dizziness/lightheadedness
  • Shortness of breath/feeling of being smothered
  • Intense fear (feeling of imminent doom)
  • Feeling out of control
  • Sense of unreality
  • Fear of dying, losing control, or losing your mind
  • Difficulty explaining behavior
  • No easily identified cause for reaction – “out of the blue”

Treatment Options Available

Panic attacks in children can be terrifying for both the child and the parent. Luckily, there are a number of treatment methods that have been shown to be effective in managing panic disorder. Some of the most popular and effective methods of treatment include:

  • Counseling – Counseling can help the child and their family to understand what happens during a panic attack and how to cope with it. Sessions can help reduce the impact of symptoms on daily life, and can be used in conjunction with other therapies to increase effectiveness. 
  • Individual Psychotherapy – This therapy is usually a good place to start working with a child with panic attacks. Often times, sufferers feel a sense of guilt for their disorder. Psychotherapy can help children become aware of and address their feelings, and reduce the symptoms of their panic attacks. 
  • Group Psychotherapy – This therapy can provide a valuable platform for children to discuss their experiences with other children who face adversity. It also allows children to practice social skills in a carefully structured setting. 
  • Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy – This therapy seeks to teach the child new techniques and skills for coping with the anxiety that leads to panic attacks. A therapist guides training sessions to help the child become aware of destructive thought and habit patterns, and start thinking in new, more positive ways. 
  • Neurofeedback Therapy – This therapy uses brain training to redirect brainwaves to a normal, healthy pattern. By getting wayward brainwaves back on track, neurofeedback has been shown effective in monitoring a number of neurological conditions including anxiety, panic attacks, and insomnia. To learn more about this therapy, click here. 
  • Prescribed Medications – Doctors commonly prescribe antidepressants and benzodiazepines in conjunction with SSRI’s for children and adolescents with panic disorder. However, these medications carry serious health risks and should be used only as a last resort. If medication is prescribed, careful monitoring is recommended to ensure the child does not display any adverse side effects. 

There are many treatments for panic attacks in children, and the most important thing is that you find one or more that works for your child. Experimenting with multiple forms of therapy has been shown to yield very positive results for some families, so don’t be afraid. Try new things, stay positive, and you can help your child overcome panic disorder.

 

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