Panic Disorder in Children

panic disorder in children

Has your child had panic attacks? Are you worried they could be experiencing a panic disorder? We diagnose and treat panic disorders in children.

Read on to learn about panic disorders in children and panic attack symptoms. We also discuss how a panic disorder is diagnosed and the treatment options available.

Panic Disorder in Children

Panic disorder is a mental health condition that can affect children and adults. It is characterised by regular panic attacks. These are attacks of fear and anxiety that manifest in physical symptoms. When children experience panic, it is because their fight or flight response is being triggered. Their brain senses danger and tells their body to get ready to respond.

The fight-or-flight response is something all humans experience. As we’ve evolved, it’s been an important way to protect ourselves from physical danger. But the fight or flight response can also be triggered by social and emotional threats. This can become problematic if it happens too often. 

Children with panic disorder experience the fight or flight response frequently and disproportionately, in the absence of physical threat. This can be very confusing. Children haven’t yet learned how to interpret bodily signals. As their heart rate increases or they become dizzy, they may think they’re seriously unwell. 

Panic disorder symptoms

Symptoms of panic can often be confused with heightened anxiety. 
Both can show up in children as:


Headaches

Difficulties breathing


Stomach aches

Tense muscles


Panic attack symptoms in children can include:

Heart palpitations

Trembling


A choking sensation

Dizziness


Difficulty breathing

Numbness or tingling in the limbs


Sweating


During a panic attack, your child may say they feel very unwell. They may try to run away from you or escape the room they are in.  Panic attacks create a sense something bad is going to happen, but your child isn’t actually in any physical danger. 

Diagnosing panic disorder

If your child experiences panic attack symptoms regularly, they need to see a child psychologist to get a diagnosis. A proper diagnosis is the first step in helping your child overcome their panic disorder. Once a child receives a diagnosis, a therapist can recommend the right treatment plan to help them manage their symptoms. To reach a diagnosis, we will interview your child and you as a parent. We will observe your child’s behaviour and symptoms to learn more. Then, we will use a range of standardised assessment tools to reach a diagnosis.

Treatments for panic disorder

Once your child has received a diagnosis, we will work with you to develop a treatment plan.

There is a substantial body of research and evidence that supports cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) as the first line of treatment for panic disorder. As such, our treatment plans for panic disorder in children focus on CBT as the main treatment method. CBT sessions for children may also involve you as a parent. CBT aims to teach children and young people: The causes of panic, What keeps it going, Strategies to overcome the difficult feelings, Your child’s CBT therapist will help your child to externalise their difficulties. This means helping the young person and their family to see that the problem isn’t just located in them. But rather, it’s a shared difficulty that we’re all working on together. 

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If your child is experiencing a panic disorder, we can help. Please get in touch for an initial discussion. We’d be happy to explore how we can help and which therapies would work best for your child

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