Panic Attacks in Childhood: A Guide for Parents

by | Apr 2, 2024 | Anxiety

Clinically Reviewed by Dr. Dubey Shivam

Meta: Panic Attacks in Childhood: A Parent’s Guide Learn to identify & support your child experiencing panic attacks. Calming techniques & resources included.

When a child experiences a panic attack, it’s a serious concern that affects not just their emotional state but their whole world. Research shows that about 2 to 3% of children and teens are dealing with panic disorder;¹ too many kids aren’t getting the help they need. Panic attacks in children are a serious issue, not just intense, sudden bouts of anxiety but also physical symptoms such as a rapid heartbeat and breathlessness. This condition can severely impact a child’s behavior and emotional well-being.

These panic attacks in young ones can be factors of genetics, environmental influences, stress, trauma, and pre-existing anxiety disorders. These factors can severely interrupt a child’s developmental journey, leading to detrimental long-term effects such as avoidance behaviors and heightened emotional turmoil. This alarming situation demands immediate attention as the repercussions extend beyond mere episodes, affecting the child’s entire life.

Key strategies include reassuring the child during episodes, imparting practical breathing exercises, cultivating a supportive and secure environment, and seeking professional guidance when panic attacks become recurrent or escalate. We will help you feel equipped and confident in supporting your child through a panic attack. With the right approach, you’ll make a significant difference in their ability to cope with anxiety and build a foundation for a happier, healthier future.

Key Takeaways

  • Panic attacks in children are intense, sudden episodes of anxiety with physical symptoms like a racing heartbeat and difficulty breathing, leading to behaviors such as avoidance and emotional distress.
  • Potential causes of childhood panic attacks include genetic factors, environmental triggers, stress, trauma, and existing anxiety disorders, which disrupt a child’s development.
  • Supporting a child during a panic attack involves reassuring them, teaching breathing exercises, creating a safe environment, and seeking professional help if panic attacks persist or worsen.

How Can You Recognize the Signs of Childhood Panic Attacks?

The first step in helping your child is recognizing the signs of a panic attack. These episodes are not your average childhood fears. Panic attacks are intense and unexpected episodes of severe anxiety that happen without warning. The experience is alarming for children who don’t understand what’s happening inside them. They may experience physical symptoms like a racing heartbeat or shortness of breath without clear cause.

Panic attacks, often called anxiety attacks, are common. They are a challenging reality for many children and adolescents dealing with panic disorder. Once panic disorder is diagnosed, appropriate treatment can be found to manage recurring panic attacks.

How to Identify Intense Physical Symptoms?

Physical symptoms are often the most visible signs of a panic attack in children. Recognizing these symptoms is important; early intervention prevents the increase of panic attacks and reduces their impact on the child’s life.

Some common physical symptoms include:

  • Sudden racing heart
  • Chest tightness or pain
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Dizziness
  • Sweating
  • Nausea

These intense physical symptoms are direct signs of severe anxiety, intense fear, and distress in the child experiencing the panic attack.


What Are the Emotional Indicators?

Beyond the physical, there are clear emotional signs that show a child is experiencing a panic attack. They may feel anxious and consumed by extreme worry and fear, as though a serious negative event is about to happen. This fear can be so strong that the child might think they are in physical danger, such as experiencing feelings similar to:

  • a heart attack
  • choking
  • losing mental control
  • dying

The emotional weight of anxiety attacks, often experienced by those with obsessive-compulsive disorder, often leads to a fear of dying, losing control, or the perception of an unraveling mind.

Are There Behavioral Clues to Help Identify Panic Attacks?

Behavioral clues are also signs of panic attacks. A child may begin to avoid places or situations that they associate with panic attacks; an avoidance behavior shows they are really scared.

For example, a child during a family event in a crowded place. They suddenly start to cry uncontrollably, tremble, and show signs of restlessness, such as pacing or fidgeting excessively. When they are out of character and without an obvious cause, these behaviors can indicate that the child is currently experiencing a panic attack. Such visible signs need immediate attention and support from caregivers to help the child manage their intense feelings of fear and discomfort.

What Causes Panic Attacks in Kids?

Understanding what triggers these intense experiences in children is necessary to help them through it. Panic attacks happen when challenges like family history, physical illness, stressful events, and other worries come together. While panic disorder often comes during the teenage years, it often starts earlier, with evidence pointing to family patterns that suggest a genetic component.²

Research shows that genetics play a significant role in panic disorder, which affects about half of those with the condition.² This means that panic disorder is partly inherited, and factors like family history, stress, and physical health can influence its development. Studies highlight the importance of understanding these genetic and environmental triggers to support children experiencing panic attacks effectively.

Without proper intervention and early treatment, panic disorder can severely disrupt a child’s social life, academic performance, and overall development.

What Role Does Anxiety Disorder Play?

Anxiety disorders are involved in the development of panic attacks in children. Social anxiety disorders, including selective mutism, can increase a child’s fear and stress in social interactions, potentially leading to panic attacks. 

The persistent worry and fear common with anxiety disorders can disrupt a child’s ability to engage in and enjoy daily activities,  isolating them from their peers and increasing their anxieties. This cycle of anxiety and avoidance can affect a child’s social skills, academic performance, and overall quality of life, setting the stage for panic attacks in environments where they feel most vulnerable, such as in social settings.

Children with social anxiety often fear embarrassment or making mistakes in front of others, which can cause them to avoid social gatherings and activities. Selective mutism, where children are unable to speak in certain social situations caused by extreme anxiety, can also trigger panic attacks when they are pressured to communicate.

School settings, with their expectations for performance and socialization, are challenging for children with social anxiety disorders and act as significant triggers for panic attacks.

What Is the Impact of Stress and Trauma?

Stress and trauma are powerful triggers for panic attacks in children and adolescents. Exposure to violence, abuse, or neglect is traumatic enough to trigger panic attacks and even lead to post-traumatic stress disorder. Left untreated, these panic attacks often grow to become more serious conditions, including more severe cases of depression and even suicidal behavior. This highlights the need for quick action to recognize and treat these conditions.

What Are the Practical Steps to Support Your Child During a Panic Attack?

Knowing how to support your child when they are having a panic attack can make all the difference. Before we look into specific actions to take, it’s important to understand the value of your role as a supportive figure.

Your presence and actions are important in providing comfort and safety to your child during a panic attack. The following list outlines steps to help you manage these challenging episodes and provide the most effective support for your child’s needs.

  • Comfort your child by letting them know that the symptoms, while scary, are temporary and not dangerous.
  • Help your child control their breathing by guiding them through slow belly breathing. Which helps reduce some of the physical symptoms of a panic attack.
  • Maintaining your composure as a caregiver helps stabilize your child during these moments.

Encouraging your child to seek comfort, whether through the presence of someone they trust or by focusing on something soothing, provides the reassurance they need to get through the attack.

Do breathing exercises help?

Breathing exercises are a powerful tool for managing the symptoms of a panic attack. A simple method includes instructing the child to inhale slowly through their nose, hold the breath briefly, and then exhale completely. This technique helps reduce hyperventilation and brings a sense of calm to an otherwise frightening moment.

Regular practice of these exercises makes them a go-to strategy for children during panic attacks, providing a sense of control over their symptoms.

Creating a Safe Space

Creating a safe and predictable environment is soothing for a child experiencing a panic attack. Here are some tips to create a comforting space:

  • Keep the living space clutter-free
  • Create a dedicated comfort zone for the child to go to when feeling overwhelmed
  • Use soft lighting and quiet surroundings to create a secure and calm atmosphere

These measures help prevent or lessen the severity of panic attacks.

Your calm and composed presence, comforting words, and validation of their feelings can strengthen your own child and adolescent’s sense of security during these challenging moments.

When to Seek Professional Help?

When your child’s panic attacks continue or worsen despite your support and calming techniques, it may be time to consider seeking professional help. Stressful situations at home, school, or life changes often overwhelm children and show the need for professional intervention.

A mental health provider, such as a child and adolescent psychiatrist, offers additional strategies and treatments to help manage frequent or severe panic attacks, giving your child the comprehensive support they need.

Healing Psychiatry of Florida specializes in providing compassionate and effective care for your child’s needs. Our team of experts uses evidence-based approaches to help children overcome their fears, build resilience, and thrive in their daily lives. Don’t let anxiety hold your child back. Reach out to Healing Psychiatry of Florida today to begin a journey toward healing and empowerment.

How Can We Build Resilience Against Future Attacks?

It is important to help kids improve their ability to deal with difficult situations, including panic attacks. Children who reflect on past experiences, both difficult and successful, often have a sense of personal strength that allows them to face new challenges confidently. Strong social support is a starting point for resilience. Connecting with family and friends provides children with a network of understanding and assistance is important during stressful times.

Goal-setting and building a sense of accomplishment also encourage children to view themselves as resourceful problem-solvers, which is important for building resilience. A stable daily routine provides a sense of order and predictability, working as a simple and familiar pattern that helps reduce stress.

Creating a Positive Mental Attitude

A child’s mental attitude plays an important role in their ability to cope with panic attacks. Some strategies to encourage a child’s mood and positive mindset include:

  • Teaching children to challenge and change negative thoughts
  • Encouraging positive self-talk
  • Practicing relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing or mindfulness
  • Providing a supportive and understanding environment
  • Seeking professional help if needed

Using these strategies helps your child develop a positive mindset and cope with panic attacks.

By encouraging a positive mindset and resilience, parents help their children develop strategies to face their fears and anxieties effectively.

The Importance of Encouraging Healthy Lifestyle Choices in Children

Healthy lifestyle choices are another way to build resilience against panic attacks. Regular exercise, proper sleep, and relaxation all contribute to a child’s ability to manage stress. Not enough sleep often leads to mental health and behavioral problems. 

Children prone to panic attacks need to follow a regular sleep schedule. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, for optimal health, children 6 to 12 years of age should get 9 to 12 hours of sleep per 24 hours, and adolescents 13 to 18 should aim for 8 to 10 hours of sleep per 24 hours.³

A balanced diet provides the nutrients needed for overall physical health, further supporting a child’s capacity to handle anxiety. Avoiding drinks with caffeine might help because they can make anxiety more intense.

How Can Parents Manage School and Social Life for Children with Panic Disorder?

Managing school and social life is a challenge for children with panic disorder and requires help from parents. The unpredictable nature of panic attacks can create fear and anxiety around attending school, participating in classroom activities, or engaging in social interactions with peers. Parents need to understand the challenges of managing school life and social relationships when their child is coping with panic disorder.

Spending time in nature has therapeutic effects, and one way of reducing the frequency and intensity of panic attacks is by providing a calm and serene environment. By learning straightforward strategies, parents can better assist their children. This can include talking to teachers and school staff, getting kids involved in fun activities to build their confidence, and helping them make friends who can support them when needed.

By exploring and using a thorough approach that addresses both educational and social challenges, parents can help their children with panic disorder manage these aspects of their lives.

Should You Talk to the School?

Communication with school staff is important for creating a supportive educational environment for children with panic disorder. Teachers should be aware of the condition’s nature and effects, including difficulties with concentration and participation in class activities. Changing the workload and using a discreet signal system can help students with panic disorder manage their anxiety and prevent attacks without disrupting their learning.

A flexible and supportive classroom environment allows these students to develop the coping skills they need to succeed.

Maintaining Social Connections

Maintaining social connections is also important for children with panic disorder. Slow exposure to low-pressure social situations helps build social confidence. Role-playing and practicing social skills can prepare children for real-life interactions while creating empathy and self-esteem, building a solid base for smooth social integration.

Problem-solving skills and demonstrating healthy social behaviors by parents equip children to handle social challenges more easily.

When to Consider Medication and Therapy

Medication and therapy for a child with panic attacks is an important consideration. Untreated panic disorder often leads to severe depression and an increased risk of suicidal behavior, highlighting the importance of treatment. A treatment plan that uses medication and talking to a therapist usually works better than just one treatment.

When considering medication, working closely with a healthcare provider specializing in pediatric mental health is important. They can help determine the most appropriate medication based on the child’s specific symptoms, age, and overall health. It’s also important to have regular appointments to see how well the medication is working and to change things if needed.

Therapy, on the other hand, provides a safe space for children to explore their feelings and develop coping strategies. It empowers them to understand their anxiety, learn how to manage it, and build confidence in their ability to handle difficult situations.

The Role of Medication in Treating Panic Disorder

Medication, particularly selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), plays an important role in getting panic disorder treated in children and adolescents. These medications are considered safe and effective for treating anxiety disorders in young populations. Regular follow-ups are essential to monitor the effectiveness of the medication and any potential side effects.

It is usually recommended to continue medication for a year after symptoms have resolved before considering tapering off under medical supervision.

Therapy Options for Children with Panic Attacks

Therapy, specifically cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), is another effective treatment option for children with panic attacks. CBT helps children identify and change negative thought patterns. It is administered in individual, group, or family therapy sessions. Basic steps in CBT include teaching calming skills, cognitive restructuring, and exposure therapy to slowly facing feared situations.

The goal of CBT is to decrease avoidance behaviors and provide children with strategies to manage their anxiety in stressful circumstances.


Panic attacks in children are serious and affect many aspects of their lives. About 2 to 3 percent of kids and teens face panic disorder, yet not enough get the help they need. These attacks are not just intense anxiety but also come with physical symptoms like rapid heartbeat and trouble breathing. They can significantly disrupt a child’s emotional health and behavior.

The causes of panic attacks in children include genetics, environmental stress, trauma, and existing anxiety disorders. To support a child during a panic attack, parents should offer reassurance, teach breathing exercises, create a safe environment, and seek professional help if the attacks continue or worsen. Recognizing the signs of panic attacks, such as sudden fear, racing heart, and difficulty breathing, is important. Early intervention can prevent more severe issues. Managing stress and trauma, encouraging healthy lifestyles like regular exercise and enough sleep, and supporting the child’s school and social life are important steps. In more severe cases, medication and therapy, like cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), may be needed.


Frequently Asked Questions

Why does my 10-year-old keep having panic attacks?

It’s important to consider factors such as phobias, existing mental health conditions, or short-term emotional triggers as potential causes for your 10-year-old’s panic attacks. Consider seeking professional help to address these underlying issues.

Can a 5-year-old have an anxiety attack?

Yes, a 5-year-old can have anxiety and panic attacks, as it is fairly common for children to experience these conditions.

How do you calm a child with a panic attack?

To calm a child with a panic attack, reassure them that their symptoms of panic are from fast breathing and encourage them to slow down their breathing to one breath every five seconds. Talk to them in a calm voice to help them regain control.

What causes panic attacks in children?

Panic attacks in children can be caused by phobias, existing mental health conditions like anxiety or depression, other physical illnesses, and short-term emotional triggers, such as suffering a loss. It is not always clear what causes panic attacks, but feeling anxious about something or experiencing something difficult or stressful can trigger them, such as anxiety caused by a difficult experience at home or school.

What are the most common physical symptoms of a panic attack in children?

Common physical symptoms of a panic attack in children include a racing heart, chest tightness or pain, difficulty breathing, dizziness, sweating, and nausea. These signs need to be addressed with care and support.


  1. Panic Disorder, 
  2. The genetics of panic disorder, 

AASM publishes consensus statement for pediatric sleep durations,

Anastasiya Palopoli

Written by Anastasiya Palopoli

Anastasiya Palopoli, a board-certified Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner, has extensive experience in nursing and psychiatric care, with degrees in Nursing from UCF and Psychiatric Mental Health from the University of Cincinnati. Following a residency in General and Child Psychiatry in Florida, she specializes in treating Dementia, psychosis, depression, and anxiety through holistic approaches. Beyond her professional life, she enjoys hiking, tennis, and traveling with her family.