This representational picture shows a child hiding away. — Pixabay/File
This representational picture shows a child hiding away. — Pixabay/File

Children are seen by adults as adorable little joys who occasionally cause trouble and spend the majority of their time lost in their own fantasy world, carefree of the realities that will confront them as they get older.

But what adults frequently overlook is the fact that children are also humans, albeit in a much smaller form. They are also susceptible to a range of human emotions, such as fear and panic.

For children's welfare and mental health, it is essential to comprehend and treat panic attacks. Recognising the symptoms of a child's panic attack and having support and coping mechanisms on hand for them during these traumatic episodes are critical skills for parents, carers, and educators.

In recent years, according to the Hindustan Times, experts have revealed that there has been growing concern about the rising incidence of panic attacks in children. This concerning pattern has been the subject of numerous studies, which have revealed a rise in the frequency of panic attacks among the younger population. 

We can aid in easing their symptoms and encouraging their emotional resilience by creating a nurturing environment and putting in place suitable coping mechanisms.

Dr Ruhi Satija, Consultant Psychiatrist, Therapist, and Mind Transformation Mentor, Cloudnine Hospital, Mumbai, said: "Panic attack is a sudden and intense episode of extreme anxiety or fear mimicking a life-threatening emergency that peaks within minutes, even though there is no actual danger present, that typically lasts for a relatively short period."

She added that panic attacks cause intense physical and psychological symptoms, often overwhelming and distressing. Children often lack understanding of their experiences, causing them to complain of symptoms like stomach aches and headaches instead of fear.

Dr Satija also shared 13 signs of panic attacks in children that follow:

  • A panic attack in a child may cause them to feel extremely scared or as though something terrible is about to happen. They might appear to have lost control.
  • Increased breathing rate accompanied by chest pain or discomfort, shortness of breath, or a suffocating sensation.
  • During a panic attack, some kids may experience gastrointestinal symptoms like nausea, stomach pain, or "butterflies in the stomach."
  • Their hands, feet, or other areas of their body may become tingly or numb throughout a panic attack. The most common cause of this is hyperventilation.
  • A young child having a panic attack might say that they are afraid of dying, losing their minds, or losing control.
  • Excessive sweating or sudden chills: These are two common physical signs of panic attacks. A child might have hot, perspiring skin or cold, clammy skin.
  • A child experiencing a panic attack may experience dizziness or lightheadedness, as well as unsteadiness, lightheadedness, loss of balance, or fainting.
  • When having a panic attack, you may shake or tremble your hands, legs, or entire body.
  • Sudden changes in mood and behaviour
  • Regular manifestations of generalised physical discomfort.
  • Disrupted sleep cycles and changes in appetite.
  • Acting in an avoidant manner, such as avoiding places or circumstances that one knows have caused them in the past.
  • Increased reliance on parents and a demonstrated reluctance to attend school.

How can you help a child experiencing a panic attack?

According to Dr Satija, early recognition and proper treatment of panic attacks are crucial for long-term mental health disorders like depression and personality disorders.

She also suggests that open communication with children about the fact that panic attacks do not cause permanent physical damage is essential.

Techniques that help soothe a child in panic

Dr. Satija also shared techniques that adults can use to help children overcome their panic attack efficiently.

  • Breathing techniques example, square breathing, 2:4 breathing, bubble breathing
  • Grounding techniques such as the 54321 technique
  • Progressive muscle relaxation.
  • Holding a weighted blanket might be calming on the senses.
  • Thought-stopping: Teaching the kid to recognise and reject unsettling or anxious thoughts during a panic attack. Encourage them to mentally yell "Stop!" and switch to a more upbeat or realistic thought whenever they notice a negative thought coming on. This method can be used to break the cycle of worrying thoughts.
  • It is critical that the adult providing support calm down before offering assistance. and acquires these skills to assist the kids.
  • The final and most crucial step is to seek professional assistance from a psychiatrist for an accurate evaluation and, if necessary, therapy like cognitive behavioural therapy, or CBT. This will help resolve the problem.

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