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"I sincerely felt that I was at risk of keeling over and dying in the gutter." -- Carl

"I couldn't breathe, I couldn't move, and I started crying." -- Olivia

"I feel like I'm jumping out of my own skin." -- Jonathan

"I'm being held underwater with no way of coming up for air." -- Lindsey

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All of these quotes describe the feelings of a panic attack from people who have had them.

Both adults and children can have panic attacks.

If you're a parent or someone who works with children or teens, you need to be ready to help them regain control if a panic attack strikes.

What does a panic attack look like?

A panic attack is a sudden, brief episode of intense anxiety, which causes physical sensations of fear. Both children and adults have panic attacks.

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Are panic attacks in children the same as in adults?

Yes and no.

The most significant difference in panic disorder between adults and children is their ability to recognize and express their anxiety.

Because of this, children will cope better with a panic attack when an adult is there to support them.

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Typical symptoms seen in children having a panic attack:

  • Crying or tantrums

  • Inability to concentrate

  • Restlessness

  • Nightmare or disturbed sleep

  • Irritability

  • Falling asleep in school

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Children may also experience similar symptoms to adults:

  • A strong feeling of dread, danger, or foreboding

  • Fear of dying

  • Feeling lightheaded and dizzy

  • Trembling or shaking, sweating

  • Accelerated heart rate

  • Feeling of having a heart attack

  • Breathing difficulties, including shortness of breath

  • Nausea or abdominal distress

  • Tense muscles

  • Dry mouth

Panic attack vs. anxiety attack

Panic attacks are often confused with anxiety attacks. Children with anxiety often also have panic attacks.

How can you tell the difference?

Flaticon Icon Panic Attack

  • Begins suddenly

  • Usually last 5-15 minutes

  • Symptoms often more intense, including feeling like you're having a heart attack or dying

Flaticon Icon Anxiety Attack

  • Builds gradually

  • Can last indefinitely

  • Symptoms are less intense, but usually last longer

Is treatment the same?

Treatment for anxiety is usually ongoing. Successful treatment for anxiety often leads to fewer panic attacks.

Types of treatment for children with anxiety include:

Treatment for a panic attack focuses on helping the child cope in the immediate moment.


Maya has been feeling worried lately. She has been avoiding school for the last week and has been crying off and on for a few days. Her parents want to help her but they're not sure where to start. What should they do? Select all that apply.

How to help a child during a panic attack

Flaticon Icon Most panic attacks end within 15 minutes. The goal for the adult is to stay calm and try to help the child cope until the attack is over.

Flaticon Icon Children often don't have the words to explain how they're feeling and don't have strategies to get through the episode. They need an adult to help them.

Flaticon Icon Describe the episode

  1. Briefly explain what is happening. For example:

    You are having a panic attack. You are safe. It will be over soon.

Flaticon Icon Model and coach deep breathing

  1. Breath in through the mouth

  2. Hold your breath briefly

  3. Breath out slowly

For younger children, you can say:

Smell the flowers and blow out the candles.

Flaticon Icon Model and coach grounding techniques

Try to shift focus from the panic attack to something else.

54321 Technique

Name 5 things you can see

Name 4 things you can feel

Name 3 things you can hear

Name 2 things you can smell

Name 1 thing you can taste

ABCD Technique

Name something you see that starts with the letter A.

Name something you see that starts with the letter B.....

Flaticon Icon Guide muscle relaxation

Coach the child to relax stressed muscles using a guided method, starting with the feet, and working up to the head. For example:

Squeeze your toes as tightly as you can — 1,2,3,4,5. Let go.

Squeeze your calves as tightly as you can — 1,2,3,4,5. Let go.


Aayush is having a panic attack. Which strategies would help him calm down?

Take Action

Helping a child cope with a panic attack can be stressful. Would you like to learn more about other steps you can take?

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