A panic disorder is a common type of anxiety disorder that a child or adolescent may develop. It is a condition that emerges spontaneously, and with lack of insight or awareness of anxiety disorders, children may attribute the panic to certain situations or environments.
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A panic attack is manifested by a sudden surge of intense fear, palpitation, dizziness, choking sensations or difficulty in breathing, sweating, trembling, and gastrointestinal distress, and children may be frantically screaming and crying. Behavioral changes include avoidance of going to places or engaging in activities that they feel would cause panic.
Panic disorders are treatable, usually through drug and behavioral therapy. One way parents can manage panic attacks at home is to teach and help the child understand the condition so that they know how to identify a panic attack episode. Parents can explain that anxiety is normal to help people prepare for danger, but can be a problem when the body thinks it is in danger when it is not.
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Parents can also help the child learn how to relax by teaching how to take slow, deep, regular breaths through the nose when they are starting to feel anxious.
Jonathan Lauter, M.D. is a certified general and child and adolescent psychiatrist based in New York. For more updates on child and adolescent mental health, subscribe to this blog.