What Are The Causes of Child Panic Attacks?

What is Panic Disorder?

It’s a sudden onset of intense fear, causing what’s called a panic, or anxiety attack. When a child or teenager has a panic attack, the symptoms are similar to the ones experienced by adults.

Symptoms include: having difficulty breathing, a racing heart, sweating, feeling a desperate need to escape, feeling a sense of intense fear, or danger and feeling powerless to stop it.

General anxiety is normal

Childhood anxiety, just like that of adults, is a normal, healthy emotion, that’s felt as a response to certain stimuli. But when anxiety becomes recurring, irrational and intense, it may be considered to be a disorder.

Recurring episodes of anxiety attacks can disable the child from performing their duties at school and at home.

Although anxiety attacks don’t cause any long term harm to the child, they can definitely affect how the child lives.

Since children are generally more mentally fragile than adults, they’re usually more vulnerable to the effects of these attacks. This in turn, can make them seem more severe than the adult version.

But what are some of the causes of an anxiety attack? Here are some of the most common causes:


School Phobia and Separation Anxiety

When a child reaches a certain age, they can sometimes develop a ‘school phobia’. What happens, is the child becomes excessively fearful of going to school. The child then creates reasons why they shouldn’t go to school, or complains of ailments such as toothache, headache, stomach ache, etc., to keep him or her from going to school.

School phobia is often linked to separation anxiety but the latter can manifest to situations other than in school. (e.g. being with a group of people, or staying with other family members for the weekend).

Separation anxiety is excessive fear of being away from someone that the child is comfortable being with. The signs of separation anxiety are similar though, to school phobia.


Stress has been linked to anxiety attacks for many years. The child’s undue stress may be a result of heavy responsibilities at home and/or in school. For example, unfinished tasks, physical and psychological abuse. (eg: a school bully, or an environment that is unfit for the child’s age, ie: violence, etc.)

Change in lifestyle

Over time, a child creates friends at their school and in the neighbourhood. These friends would make them feel comfortable and accepted. So when the family moves to another place, or the child has to move to a different school, the child loses the friends and comfort they’d established and it forces them to start all over again. If the child can’t cope with this stressful situation, it can lead to episodes of an anxiety attack.

Indirect Reasons

In many cases, anxiety attacks seem to happen without any logical, clear or apparent reason. It may occur while the child was previously relaxed during the day. Perhaps, an anxiety attack is brought about by unresolved internal issues, which aren’t directly connected with the trigger. For example, a child who experiences the death of a loved one, may panic whenever a certain, almost similar situation happens. The traumatic experience they went through in the past, which wasn’t processed properly, can come out in this case, through an attack.

A child may also show episodes of anxiety attacks because the problem at hand reminded them about family conflicts. Fighting in the family as well as divorce of parents may be traumatic to a child and if they should happen to witness a similar situation, that can sometimes trigger an attack.

As with adult attacks, there’s not usually a single reason why a child will suffer an anxiety attack, but when they do, it’s important to know how do deal with it properly.

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Steve, the Founder of Teen Anxiety UK, has been writing books and articles about various aspects of Psychology since 2006.

His formal qualifications include Clinical Hypnotherapy, Psychotherapy, Neuro-Linguistic Programming, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and Child Psychology.

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