Helping a child experiencing a panic attack
When I was in first grade, I used to ride a bike with my friends. Suddenly the wheel of my Bicycle hit a rock. I went over the steering wheel and fell, hitting my chin. It didn’t really hurt. However, when I saw that I was bleeding, I started screaming. I wasn’t screaming in pain – I was scared.
When my parents came running to help, I had a real panic. I saw the fear on dad’s face as he ran toward me. Then we went to the hospital.
I’ll never forget this trip. I was sitting on my mom’s lap, and dad was driving. My mother comforted me as much as she could, but I couldn’t take them anymore. I was filled with panic, and eventually I screamed, ” I hate my bike, I hate hospitals, I hate riding in a car, I hate you!”Yeah, it was a fun trip for my parents.
Now that I’m working as a psychologist, I understand that a child experiencing a panic attack cannot be calmed down with logical beliefs. Fear completely paralyzes a person’s ability to reason, and he is at the mercy of emotions.
From a biological point of view, when we feel the danger, the part of the brain called the amygdala triggers a reaction fight or flight. At the same time, the cerebral cortex responsible for logical thinking and rational assessment of the situation is switched off.
To be more precise, a person’s ability to think rationally does not disappear, but only slows down. When a person experiences a panic attack, techniques aimed at relieving secondary symptoms, such as rapid heartbeat and breathing, high blood pressure, etc., will best help.
Well helps a simple exercise-slow deep breathing. If you want to help your child overcome a strong fear, invite him to take a few deep breaths. It is also useful to use mindfulness techniques, in other words, to focus on something that is happening in the moment. For example, you can ask your child to name what he hears, sees, feels at the moment, what smells and tastes he feels. Or you can ask the child to focus on a single subject and describe it in great detail.
It is also important not to try to persuade the child to calm down when he is experiencing a panic attack. Phrases: “do not be afraid”, “nothing terrible happened”, “All is well” , etc. do not work. People in a state of panic are not able to think rationally. Of course, it is not necessary to tell the child that there is a reason for fear. But sometimes it’s good to just acknowledge his feelings. You can tell him, ” I can see how scared you are.”
You don’t have to take everything that a child experiencing a panic attack tells you personally. I sincerely hope that my parents understood that I say unpleasant words for them under the influence of emotions.
To be honest, I don’t remember how my parents helped me cope with the panic in that situation. I was too excited to pay attention. But I clearly remember how we drove home. I’d had stitches in the hospital, and the wound had barely healed. I told my parents that I’d said something stupid because I was scared, and that I didn’t really think so. My ability to think rationally has returned to me.
Injuries are just one of the cases that can cause a panic attack in a child. Children and adolescents have a tendency to develop fear into panic attacks. Some children are more likely to do this, some less. When the panic attack is over, you can help your child identify the thoughts that caused it. Help him to see how real his fears are, and how high the probability of a negative outcome of events.
And most importantly, remember: when you are trying to cope with the negative emotions of the child, you must be able to regulate their own emotions. If you see a child experiencing a panic attack, you yourself feel anxiety, fear, or react to the situation with anger or frustration, it will only aggravate the situation and increase the negative emotions of the child.