Panic Attacks in Children & Childhood Anxiety Disorder Treatment

how to help a child with anxietyUpdate: My nephew Noah (age 9) is currently having much relief from his school anxiety because his parents are using the principles of this program. He is back to his happy self again, and there is no greater feeling than that…

The Anxiety-Free Child Program is a tremendously useful program to help parents with school aged children who are having a rough time with anxiety, panic attacks, and school phobia.

I had the the opportunity to review the whole program and all I can say is, where was this when my daughter Sam was going through her ordeal? This is immediate anxiety help available at your fingertips- strategies you as parents can implement and teach your child right now to empower them and help them start to feel better right away.

Anxiety-Free Child Program


Panic Attacks in Children & Childhood Anxiety Disorder TreatmentAs parents your natural instinct is to soothe your child’s fears. This has been your job from day one. So it is very disturbing when your child suffers from an anxiety disorder or panic attacks. You’d do anything to make your child feel better, if only you knew what in the world to do.

The purpose of this article is to discuss panic attacks in children, explain the symptoms, and discuss childhood anxiety disorder treatment from a mother who has been there.

You can learn how to help a child with anxiety.

Anxiety is a normal part of being a child. Nearly every child is afraid of something at some point. But when a child starts to avoid certain everyday situations because of fear, this is not normal childhood fear. This is a phobia.

When my daughter Samantha was in second grade, she was traumatized by a particularly severe thunderstorm, in which lightning actually struck the convenience store we were in, causing the air conditioning unit to implode and glass to shatter.

Soon after this incident, she became hysterical when it started thundering at a small town carnival and we had to rush to get her to the car. Thunderstorms became a dreaded emotional experience in our household.

In short time, she developed a phobia of not only thunder but clouds, even on sunny days. It got to the point where she would refuse to go outside even on a beautiful summer day, for fear of a thunderstorm.

Signs and Symptoms of panic attacks in children:

A child often doesn’t have the words to describe what is happening to him or her during a panic attack. Even if they can describe their feelings they may be reluctant or embarrassed to let you know how frightened they really are. Therefore as parents and caregivers, it is important to identify the signs and symptoms the child is exhibiting.

The symptoms of panic attacks in children are the same as in adolescents or adults. They include:

  • Shortness of breath or difficulty taking a deep breath
  • Intense fear
  • Racing heartbeat
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Trembling or shaking in the extremities
  • Depersonalization, or a sense of unreality
  • Fear of losing control, dying or going crazy

If panic disorder in children goes unrecognized and left untreated, the complications can be difficult. The attacks begin to interfere with the child’s relationships, school and normal social development. This was the case with me: my untreated panic attacks childhood from abuse I received in my Christian school led to a lifetime (well, 30 plus years) of agoraphobia, social anxiety disorder and panic attacks.

Thankfully, this was not the case with my daughter.

Children with panic attacks can start to feel anxious a good deal of the time, even when they are not actually having a panic attack. For my daughter Samantha, her initial phobia of the thunderstorms developed into a fear of clouds in general, making it very difficult to go outside even on sunny days.

The thunderstorm that started the phobia was in August. When the new school year began the next month, she started to become frightened of going from our house to the bus stop. Every day as the bus pulled away, I had to watch my child crying. It was heartbreaking. We had to speak to the school and arrange for her teacher to physically help Sam get off the bus and into the school. This went on every day for weeks.

Her separation anxiety became more pronounced that fall. Social events such as birthday parties were agonizing for my child. I remember one party that was held at a local gymnastics center. Sam was very excited to go, as she loved this friend and also loved gymnastics. However as we drove to the party, her mood changed and she became frightened.

“Mommy I don’t want to go.”

“Sam honey it will be fun.”

“I want to go home.”

“Sweetie, all your friends are there.”

(crying now) “Mommy I want to go home now!”

By the time we got to the party she was highly frightened and almost inconsolable. She was crying and shaking and I had to hold her physically. After what seemed like forever, I was able to get her to calm down enough to go in. She was clingy and wouldn’t interact with her classmates and friends until almost the end of the party. I felt like a bad mom because she was so frightened and cruel because I pretty much forced her go to the party.

Childhood Anxiety Disorder Treatment

A pediatric psychiatrist stressed that we (we being me and my husband) shouldn’t give into Sam’s avoidance behaviors. This was not as easy as it sounds.

During this phase, we painfully weathered the clouds, the school bus, and the birthday parties. It was absolutely heartbreaking to see her suffer like that. My words and hugs couldn’t soothe her. If you’ve ever tried to sooth a hysterical inconsolable 7 year old girl, and then actually force her to do the very thing she is afraid of, you know how gut wrenching this is.

However, the key is we did seek treatment for her. By following the suggestions of her doctor and not giving into Sam’s panic, we were able to get her to to school every day on the yellow school bus. And we attended every party we were invited to. It was not easy. It would have been far easier to just say, forget this! and go home. And I do admit there were times I really felt like throwing in the towel. I would plead to her doctor, “what the hell good is it for her to go to a party when she’s hysterical?”

Panic attacks in children cause a tremendous amount of suffering, both for the frightened child, and his or her parents or caregivers as well. It is crucial to seek childhood anxiety disorder treatment as soon as you feel your child is experiencing panic attacks. When properly evaluated, like my Sam, childhood panic attacks respond well to treatment.

And speaking of treatment, getting the right help was no walk in the park for us. We saw a total of 3 doctors and 1 social worker to help us with Sam’s anxiety. It was excruciating, expensive, and only 1 doctor helped us at all. If you are deciding to seek therapy for your child, be sure to listen to your instincts and persist until you find one who really knows what they’re doing.

I also suggest you read everything you can about anxiety and panic attacks in children. Our books were the only resources we had in between psychiatrist appointments and they were comforting. Thankfully parents today have even more options.

How to help a Child with Anxiety

As parents, we must advocate for our children. Call your child’s school. Make an appointment with her pediatrician. Ask for a referral to a good pediatric psychologist. Read everything you can. With panic attacks in children, knowledge is key.

I will mention again that the Anxiety Free Child program is an excellent resource if you have an anxious child or if he or she has panic attacks.

Anxiety-Free Child Program

Remember:  You are your child’s best advocate and support person. If your child suffers from panic attacks, don’t wait 2 weeks until you get an appointment with a therapist who may or may not help. You know your child best and can start helping them right away. What a tremendous gift.


The Anxiety Free Child Program

I wish you peace,
Jill G.

p.s. By the end of 2nd grade, Samantha was pretty much back to her old outgoing self. This was due to almost a year of a lot of intense work and the trail and errors I mentioned above. Don’t make your child suffer any longer than necessary. Order The Anxiety Free Child program and start helping your child today.

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26 Responses to Panic Attacks in Children & Childhood Anxiety Disorder Treatment

  1. Lena says:

    My 7 year old daughter is suffering from severe anxiety and possibly panic attacks. She doesn’t know why she is afraid, and is actually afraid of being afraid. She doesn’t know how to deal with it, always cries and keeps asking me “when will I be normal again”. It is hearbreaking for me not being able to help her, and still make her go to school, etc. I myself am just shaking and in tears, I really don’t know what to do. The closest appointment I was able to get with psychologist is in two weeks. Meanwhile, I feel like our whole world is crushing. Please share some advise or some information on at least how I am supposed to react to this, and what to do.
    Thank you in advance.

    • JillG says:

      Ok, I went through this with my daughter and it is terrifying and heartbreaking at the same time. However you will both get through this. There is a lot you can do over the next 2 weeks.

      First, it is very good that you are making her go to school. If you kept her home, you would only be reinforcing that school is something she should be afraid of. So no matter how much you may be tempted to keep her home over the next 2 weeks, don’t do it. Even if you thing you are at your wits end, have her go to school. I guarantee she is not in a severe anxiety state the entire day.

      If you haven’t already done so, contact her teacher. Let her know what your daughter is experiencing so that she can help. Let your daughter know that her teacher is someone she can go to, a safe person like you. This helped us tremendously. My daughter’s teacher used to help get Sam off the bus and into the classroom. This went on for several weeks. Once the acute anxiety passed (and it will, trust me) Sam had developed a really strong bond with this teacher.

      If the school has a psychologist or social worker, enlist their help as well. If not, talk to the school nurse or principal. They are well trained in school phobia, and it is more common than you might think. They may be able to work out a care plan for your daughter for these next few weeks.

      Research on the internet or go to your public library. If you click on the Anxiety Free Child program (it is very good), you can read more about it and purchase it if you wish.

      Monitor her diet to make sure she isn’t jacked up on too much sugar or caffeine.

      How are you supposed to react? You love and support her the best you can. It feels like your heart is being ripped out to see your child so afraid, but you must not let her see that you are too disturbed by all this. This will only serve to reinforce that the way she is thinking is right, and it’s not. Validate her fears but let her know that she will ‘be normal again’ soon. Catch her being good: during the day when she is not acutely anxious, gently point out using her words, ‘Look Honey, you feel normal now, this is great!’

      Try not to baby her too much. You don’t want to send her a message that this behavior is a way to get Mommy’s undivided attention and love. I did this with Sam and I think that is why she slept in my bed for almost a year afterward, even after we had gotten past this. Not good.

      I hope this helps. I’ll keep you and your daughter in my prayers. (((Hugs))) to you.

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  4. Kim says:

    Thank-you so much for sharing this. I myself am dealing with the same problem. My 7 year old has been experiencing anxiety attacks for about 8 months now. Getting ready for school each morning is a major ordeal. I find it so hard not to give in and let her stay home with me. To see such fear in her eyes breaks my heart. She is constantly asking me to “fix her” and is worried that she is going to feel like this forever. Last week at a doctors appointment, my physician prescribed an anxiety medication to try. My husband and I were up all night trying to decide if this was the right approach. Feeling helpless after my attempts to calm her down this morning before school, I gave her the pill. With my fingers crossed I waited for it to take effect . It did absolutely nothing to help. I drove her to school while she hysterically cried in the back seat. Her teacher came out to the car to try and calm her but that didn’t work either. While we are trying to get her into a therapist for counseling, the waiting time is killing me. I feel helpless and like I am letting her down.

    • JillG says:

      Hi Kim,

      There is nothing on this earth that hurts more than seeing your child hurt. And the wait to the therapist is agonizing I know. You want so much just to know what the hell to do right? Plus you’re scared for her because she’s so scared. I hear you on this. When my daughter was put on a low dose of Prozac (also same age as your daughter), my husband I felt like we were at the lowest depths of despair. We didn’t know what else to do so we gave her the Prozac. It didn’t help right away– but after a few weeks it did help her tremendously. She was on it for less than a year and I personally was so grateful for this. Her doctor said we could also try Rescue Remedy in the interim, because Prozac takes so long to kick in. The Rescue Remedy seemed to do the trick- that plus the help of her teacher every day to peel her off the bus, lots of walks outside after school (she was afraid of the sky and clouds due to a thunderstorm trauma). Here’s a link that will take you to Rescue Remedy if you want to check it out. It’s 100% natural and made from flowers. We even used it on our dog years later on the vet’s recommendation because he was so nervous:

      So glad to hear her teacher is helping you with this. I know it is a nightmare. But I can tell you with confidence that both you and your daughter WILL GET THROUGH THIS UNSCATHED. You are doing everything right. Early intervention is key, kids respond so very well to treatment.

      Also, reassure your daughter that she will soon feel back to herself again. Reassure her that she will not feel like this forever- lots of kids have these feelings. It’s perfectly ok, because it will pass soon! (Even if you don’t believe it tell her this, because it is the truth). Remember to catch her when she’s feeling good. She is nervous on and off but not 24/7. You can say things like “Look how happy you are my little munchkin!” “Doesn’t it feel so good to laugh?” things like that.

      Do NOT give in to the urge to keep her home. It will only reinforce that school is something to be feared and avoided. On the same front, investigate with her teacher, the school nurse, principal, psychologist, or school social worker that she isn’t being bullied or anything like that. If something like that is the case, most schools have a zero tolerance policy so take it up with the powers that be.

      This “School Phobia” thing is more common than you think and sometimes as parents, because we don’t think like children, we wouldn’t really understand what it is that is scaring them. So it may not be something as obvious to us as a bully.

      Do your best not to coddle her, although every motherly instinct may be telling you to do so. When she gets home from school, go on about your days as usual. E.g, “Well it looks like you made a terrific effort today honey. Ok, it’s time to go to the grocery store. Do you want mac and cheese or spaghetti tonight?” You know, don’t make your life revolve around this fear.

      I’ll say a prayer for you and your daughter. Let me know how she does after seeing the therapist. And don’t forget to take really good care of YOU. Keep advocating for her, and give yourself a big “atta girl” for being such a wonderful caring mom!!

      Hope this helps.

  5. mariana sievers says:

    i have a 13 year old girl who is loved , has no apparent problems , has had no major changes in her life and is normally a very kind and sensitive girl who has had fear of going to sleep alone for over a yr. and in the last couple of weeks has had 4 panic attacks , but refuses any kind of help in order to stop these attacks. We are waiting for her first therapy appointment in the meanwhile what can i do as a mother to help her? thank you so much, Mariana

    • JillG says:

      Hi Mariana,

      Until you have specific suggestions from the therapist, I would suggest making her feel as comfortable as possible at bedtime- for ex- if she needs the light on, keep it on. If she refuses to go to bed alone while others are upstairs or downstairs (watching TV or whatever), because she’s afraid to be alone, let her arrange where she falls asleep. She may also be really sensitive to scary films, horror movies, or game graphics, stuff like that- and she actually may like to watch this stuff during the day. Tell her these movies and such are off limits until you can get through this. And reassure her that she will. Use distraction while she’s trying to fall asleep: things like listening to her iPod, or a soothing sleep inducing Cd, or a white noise machine. Let her choose something that works for her. One of my daughters (14) is still afraid of the dark and sleeps with a fan every night. It really helps.

      Whatever you do, do not shame her or make her feel bad because she’s afraid. When I was little, my Dad used to yell at me to get to bed and stay there. I could not sleep until there was someone in the next room. This went on for years.

      I think it’s wonderful that you’re trying to help your daughter. I know what it’s like to have childhood fears and anxieties ignored and punished. Oh and try not to act too freaked out because she is having a hard time. Empathize with her and reinforce that she will be better soon. I know as moms we worry and fret about our kids- that’s our *job*- just don’t let her see that you’re really worried or upset. That further emphasize that there is something very wrong.

      Good luck to you.

  6. Amy Cruickshank says:

    This is so wrong–It actually does cause damage to push a child in a panic state into these situations. I am an adult who suffered this way as a child and have many problems because of these early experiences–I perceived them as traumatic and have a kind of PTSD. Some are more sensitive than others and u need to look at the individual more than a book to act in these moments.

    • JillG says:

      I respectfully disagree. Of course you should consider the individual child. I suffered greatly as a child from anxiety and panic and was forced to endure everything that frightened me, no matter what. I definitely needed early intervention and didn’t get any. I don’t even think it was invented back in my day. If firmly believe if I were given a thorough examination, tons of reassurance and love from my parents that I would get through it, support from the school, and lots of patience, I would not have suffered for as long as I did.

      I did these very things for my daughter and by the grace of God she is fine today.

      I have reviewed the Anxiety Free Child program and I think it is wonderful. If there is a program that can help other parents and children who are suffering, who is anyone to say they shouldn’t give it a try?

      • Amy Cruickshank says:

        I wasn’t saying not to try something..only that a child should not be forced to go to a party when they are in the middle of a panic attack. This can cause negative associations with being social etc. Early intervention is good, of course, but a lot of parents hear the part about pushing the child and miss the part about how to manage the problem. That’s all I meant..and to share my personal experience.

  7. Josephine says:

    My seven year old daughter is becoming agrophobic and refusing to want to go out at all, school trips, shops, anywhere due to hearing about child abductions on the tv one day. Even though I reasure her, she panics constantly. When walking down the road she grips my hand so tight it hurts, and is constantly looking behind her shoulder, and jumps when a man walks past. I really don’t know what to do 🙁

    • JillG says:

      Hi Josephine,

      My daughter was 7 when our ordeal with her anxiety started so I know how hard it is. I would suggest that you first make an appointment with her pediatrician just to make everything is good with her physically. Her doctor may have a recommendation for a child therapist that can help. You should also speak to her teacher just so she knows what’s going on and can help support your daughter through this. You can look into the Anxiety Free Child program. Stay strong for your girl, do your best not to give in too much to her avoidance of everyday things. And when she is not panicky you can have that discussion that most people in this world are good, she is loved, she is safe, etc.

      Good luck!

  8. Jamie says:

    I have a 5 year old afraid of the weather who is almost picking her skin off it there is one cloud in the sky she comes inside and i instantly tell her go back out it has gotten worse the holes on her skin are almost to the bone and she thinks she constantly has something in her mouth or that she swallowed a bug to the point she is picking under her tongue we have a therapist coming out this week and although i would try anything i can not afford the book but i dont really know if it would help her since she is in such bad shape. Thanks thou its nice not to feel alone!

  9. Charanda Fugate says:

    My 4 yr old son has been having panic attacks about dying. I don’t know where they are coming from. He has had 3 this week alone. He had one it the bathtub because he gagged and thought he was going to puke. He began shaking so hard that I thought I was going to have to take him to the ER. One night he woke up in hysterics saying something was in his ear my husband and I try to reassure him that noting was there but he didn’t understand. Then just today he had an attack at school he got choked on water and the began crying that he didn’t want to die. I don’t know what to do for him. Help please.

  10. Wes says:

    It’s not easy dealing with an anxiety disorder especially in the case of children. I’ve gone through life with SAD and it’s never easy especially when going to parties.

    We must be more understanding of people in this situations and not force them especially when they are having panic attacks. The best thing we can do is give them support and the unconditional love. Seeking professional help is also a step in the right direction.

  11. Christy says:


    I have a 13 year old daughter who for the last 3-4 weeks has been having these panic type attacks every morning before school, and also during school. She gets to where she is short of breath, her heart races and she wants to vomit. I wish I knew what was causing this. The only thing she told me was since all 4 of her best friends moved during Christmas break, (we are military ) that she has no one left to hang around at school. She has always been a shy, sensitive, but very caring , sweet girl. When I force her to go to school, she ends up in the nurses office and i end up having to go pick her up. She refuses to join activities that would allow her to meet new friends. I am afraid she is going to fail the 8th grade. She is missing so much school from these attacks every morning. This morning I drove her to the bus stop, and as I was stopping the car to let her out, she started hyperventilating saying she was going to throw up. So, the bus left in the meantime, and I brought her back home. She has an appointment with a psychiatrist in 9 days. And she has been seeing a school psychologist for 2.5 years. I never thought her mild depression would turn into this. She has been through a divorce when she was 3 and
    has never seemed like her happy self since then. Well, on and off she has seemed happy. She has also been through custody disputes and flying back and fourth between me and her dad. Twice her father refused to return her. My daughter was aware of all this no matter how hard I tried to protect her. I’m wondering if all of this somehow negatively affected her. I just do not know what to do. I feel like a bad parent for letting her stay home, but then I feel bad making her go to school and having the attacks there. Help!

    • JillG says:

      Hi Christy,

      It definitely sounds like your daughter is having panic attack symptoms. It also sounds like you are doing everything right. I hope you will try the Anxiety Free Child program– it can help you in the interim until you see the psychiatrist and will help you going forward. Take care and good luck.

  12. Mona Hamel says:

    Hi – My name is Mona and I am now 68 years old and I remember my first panic attack. I hid under the old chesterfield on our farm in Stittsville, with my tin lunch box hoping that my Father would not be able to find me but of course he did. “Mona get out from underneath that chesterfield and get off to school right now” my Brother and I were afraid of our Father so we pretty much did as we were told most of the time. I had a stuttering problem that started about the time I started school at age 4 or 5 and even today at 68 years old, I still block on some words that start with B, G, or D. I am happily married 48 years to a wonderful understanding man who has dyslexia (which I did not know about) until about 5 years into our marriage; We have 3 Adult Children and Thank God, none of our children have a stuttering problem or dyslexia; although, I think our oldest grandson may have a sign of dyslexia; He is 10.
    Thank you for letting me share.

    Mona Hamel

  13. Laurie says:

    I am a daycare provider who is taking care of a 6 yr. old who is having, I believe, panic attacks. The first one was last week when she was swimming in the pool and thought she saw a goose under the water. She has been swimming in the pool before. I assured her that it was just a shadow from the fountain and turned off the fountain but she was so afraid she wanted to go the house instead. So, we went in. I talked to her mom who informed me that she is afraid of shadows. Today was so upsetting. We were having a great day, she took a little nap, she was coloring and then she asked to go to the basement which we do everyday to sing and dance. So we go downstairs. She is dancing then all of a sudden she comes over to the couch, sits down really close to me and looks weird. Not like her cheery normal self and says she is afraid that the Grinch is going to come out of the other room. I try and tell her there is no such thing as the grinch, that it is a person who is dressed up with green paint and had fur put on. She is getting more scared and wants to go upstairs which is fine so while we are going over to the stairs we go by the room which she has been in many times before, and I tell her come on I’ll show you everything is fine. She ran up the stairs. I come up with her 5 month old baby brother and she starts screaming and trembling and nothing I can do can calm her down. She wants to go into the study so we go in there. I put the baby in the crib which is in that room and try to hold her. She is looking around with such fright in her eyes and she tells me she is so scared, grabs her mouth screaming like she has seen something. Wild eyes I have never seen before. I felt so bad for her. We had to close the door. By this time the baby is hungry but she won’t let me leave to feed him. This went on for about 45 minutes. She finally calmed down and realized that “it” wasn’t real although any mention of the color green or something associated with it made her anxious. I did call mom while it was going on to see if it has happened before. Mom came about the time it ended. I’m not sure if she has these episodes a lot but will talk with the parent more. Just wondering if there is anything I can do to help her through these times-I want to make sure she feels safe.
    Thank you

  14. dana says:

    i am 25 years old now and have had severe panic attacks since i was 10 my family has a history of panic disorder anxiety and ocd. I developed an eating disorder at age 15 it helped ease my anxiety in social places i eventually needed to be hospitalized and by the time i was 21 still struggling i found a good doctor and by 22 i was recovering well i was good for a few years and now at 25 last year i had a severe panic attack the first in years and it was horrible i was petrified of everything and anything …and i was experiencing a new sympton of the depersonalization it really is scary and i feel so bad for the little kids who have to experience this as well…..i have been having it off an on since then just cuz it scared me so bad….what can you recommend for me even as an adult who had been suffering from panic since a young child i feel like i can relate because i still ask my dad when will i feel normal again?..i am too scard to take medicine and just want to feel like myself again thanks

  15. Margie says:

    Hi, i’m Margie. I’ve experienced anxiety all my life. Ever since i was a little girl going to school was always a problem. I was so nervous at age 4 that i would throw up. Afraid of meeting people etc. My mother never noticed or realized what was actually wrong with me because she was worried about paying the bills, feeding me etc (single mother). Now i’m 21 dropped out of one of the best Universities in LA, because of my condition. It is worst, i told my mother and father. I just lost my medical, and i’m trying to seek help. Even though i told my mother she said she’ll help me get some help. So far it’s been 2/3 weeks and she hasn’t helped me at all. She slightly notices when i’m down, or not hungry from all the stress i have in wanting to get better. But i feel ignored. I feel like i’m on my own on this. How do i find help? i’m lost?

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