While there is over-the-counter medicine for anxiety and stress suitable for children, it will not help during or immediately after a panic attack. Most OTC medicines need time to work, and most panic attacks are spontaneous, making planning an intervening dose is likely impossible.
Thankfully, the medicine is not useless and you, as the parent, are not hopeless. During a panic attack, your child needs you. They are scared and do not understand what is happening to them. While you might rationalize a panic attack as an adult by recognizing it as the body’s natural fight or flight response, a child does not have that same sense of logic or reasoning. The best thing you can do as a parent during and immediately following a child’s panic attack is be there for them.
1. Stay Calm & Reassure Them
Panic attacks are scary and intimidating events, not just for the sufferer. When a child experiences a panic attack, it can be frightening for the parents. A panic attack will leave your child vulnerable to their emotions, and likely, nothing you say or do will make them feel any better, which can be incredibly unsettling for a parent.
While there are several strategies to reduce impulsivity in adults, little to nothing can prepare you for dealing with your child’s panic attack. As a parent, you want to save the day, but that is often impossible with anxiety. The best you can do is be supportive and stay calm. If you can remain calm, you can help your child calm down. Their brains will likely recognize there is nothing to fear, and they will settle. You can help the process by reassuring them that they are Ok and there is nothing to be afraid of. However, understand that there is no set time limit for a panic attack; it might take several minutes or several hours to subside.
2. Take Deep Breaths With Them
Panic is one of the causes of irritability, so do not be surprised if your child has sudden angry or emotional outbursts while dealing with an attack. You can help reduce the severity of these outbursts by helping your child remember to breathe slowly and deeply.
In tandem, have your child breathe in and out with you. Breathe in for several seconds, hold for a few seconds, and breathe out for several more seconds. Deep, slow, and intentional breathing helps your child calm their body and encourages them to focus on something other than the panic, which can help them relax.
3. Give Them Space and Time
When a panic attack has subsided, your child will likely feel exhausted. Give them the space and time they need to recover. You can allow them to take a nap, watch a TV show, read a book, etc. Once they are calm, however, talk openly. Allow them to ask questions. Also, try to explain what happened biologically to cause the issue. If you do not know the answers to their questions, be honest and find them.
While panic attacks are common, there might be an underlying condition if they occur frequently. Talk to your child’s pediatrician if they experience frequent attacks, and consider starting them on an OTC anxiety medicine.
Thank you for reading.