Helping a child experiencing a panic attack
When I was in first grade, I rode a bicycle with friends. Suddenly the wheel of my bike hit a stone. I flew over the steering wheel and fell, hitting my chin. In fact, I was not hurt. However, when I saw that I was bleeding, I started screaming. I did not scream from pain – I was scared.
When my parents came to the rescue, I started a real panic. I saw fear on my dad’s face, which was running towards me. Then we went to the hospital.
I will never forget this trip. I sat on my mother’s lap, and dad drove the car. Mom consoled me with all her might, but I could no longer perceive them. I was overwhelmed with panic, and in the end I cried out: “I hate my bike, I hate hospitals, I hate driving a car, I hate you!” Yeah, it was a fun trip for my parents.
Now, when I work as a psychologist, I understand that a child experiencing a panic attack cannot be reassured with the help of logical beliefs. Fear completely paralyzes a person’s ability to reason, and he is in the grip of emotions.
From a biological point of view, when we feel the danger, a part of the brain called the amygdala triggers the “hit or run” reaction. At the same time, the cerebral cortex, which is responsible for logical thinking and a rational assessment of the situation, is turned off.
To be more precise, a person’s ability to rational thinking does not disappear, but only slows down. When a person experiences a panic attack, they will best be helped by techniques aimed at relieving secondary symptoms, such as heart palpitations and breathing, high blood pressure, etc.
A simple exercise helps – slow, deep breathing. If you want to help your child overcome a strong fear, ask him to take a few deep breaths. It is also useful to use the techniques of awareness, in other words, to concentrate on something that is happening at the moment. For example, you can offer the child to name what he hears, sees, perceives at the moment, what smells and tastes he feels. Or you can invite 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 experiences a panic attack. Phrases: “Do not be afraid,” “Nothing terrible has happened,” “Everything is good,” etc. does not work. People in a state of panic are not able to think rationally. Of course, you should not tell the child that there is reason for fear. But sometimes it’s useful to simply acknowledge his feelings. You can tell him: “I see how scared you are.”
You do not need to take everything that a child is experiencing a panic attack at his own expense. I sincerely hope that my parents understood that I say unpleasant words for them under the influence of emotions.
Honestly, I don’t remember how my parents helped me deal with the panic in that situation. I was too excited to pay attention to this. But I clearly remember how we were driving home. In the hospital, they sutured me and the wound almost did not hurt. I told my parents that I had done something stupid because I was scared, and that I really don’t think so. My ability to think rationally has returned to me.
Injuries – this is just one of the cases that can cause a panic attack in a child. Children and adolescents have a tendency for their sense of fear to develop into panic attacks. Some children are more prone to this, some less. When the panic attack passes, you can help your child identify the thoughts that caused her. Help him see how real his fears are, and how high the probability of a negative outcome.
And most importantly, remember: when you are trying to cope with the negative emotions of a child, you must be able to regulate your own emotions. If at the sight of a child experiencing a panic attack, you yourself feel anxiety, fear or react to a situation with anger or disappointment, this will only aggravate the situation and increase the negative emotions of the child.