What to do if your child has a panic attack, as Rod Stewart discusses son’s health scare

Sir Rod Stewart, who has shared his son had a panic attack, pictured at the Mark's Club 50th Anniversary Party. (Getty Images)
Rod Stewart has revealed his son had a panic attack and the symptoms he experienced. (Getty Images)

Rod Stewart has opened up about his son Aiden having a panic attack after the 11-year-old collapsed during a game of football and was rushed to hospital.

"We thought my boy had a heart attack," the rock singer told FourFourTwo magazine.

"He was going blue and was unconscious until he calmed down. It was scary, but it turned out to be a panic attack."

So, how can you tell whether your child is having a panic attack and what can you do to help?

Read more: How to spot anxiety in your child – and how to help them

Rod Stewart in the stands with son Aiden during the UEFA Champions League third qualifying round second leg match at Celtic Park, Glasgow. (Getty Images)
Rod Stewart with son Aiden during the UEFA Champions League at Celtic Park, Glasgow. (Getty Images)

What is a panic attack?

Panic disorder is a type of anxiety where you regularly have sudden attacks of panic or fear, according to the NHS. That said, you can also just experience panic attacks from time to time.

With anxiety a feeling of unease that ranges from mild to severe, including feelings of worry and fear, panic is the most extreme form.

Panic disorder is more common in teenagers than in young children, but for young people generally it can be particularly hard to deal with.

During a panic attack you get a rush of very intense mental and physical symptoms, which can come on very quickly and for no apparent reason, and can be frightening, distressing and upsetting – the same for children. This can last for five to 20 minutes, or longer.

Read more: Should fairy tales be cancelled? Mum believes they create 'depression and anxiety'

Dad helping child having a panic attack. (Getty Images)
Try to keep calm and stay in control if your child has a panic attack. (Getty Images)

Panic attack symptoms

Generally, the many possible symptoms of a panic attack, as per the health service, include:

  • a racing heartbeat

  • feeling faint

  • sweating

  • nausea

  • chest pain

  • shortness of breath

  • trembling

  • hot flushes

  • chills

  • shaky limbs

  • a choking sensation

  • dizziness

  • numbness or pins and needles

  • dry mouth

  • a need to go to the toilet

  • ringing in your ears

  • a feeling of dread or a fear of dying

  • a churning stomach

  • a tingling in your fingers

  • feeling like you're not connected to your body

The Priory, which provides mental health services across the UK, explains that your child may feel as though they've lost control, like they are trapped, or unable to 'free' themselves from something (as well as the physical symptoms).

Having a panic attack can cause deep concern about having another, leading to a cycle of fear.

Read more: Eating disorder manifesto and toolkit for schools launched to tackle surge in cases

Boy having heart listened to at doctors. (Getty Images)
Your child should see a doctor to rule out other health conditions and connect them with the right help. (Getty Images)

What causes panic attacks in children?

There are many factors that could contribute to your child having a panic attack, which might not be immediately known, but may be helpful to get to the root of.

These include hereditary and genetic factors (if a parent or sibling suffers from panic attacks, they could be more likely to experience them too), phobias, an existing mental health condition like anxiety, depression, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), short-term emotional triggers like a bereavement, low self-esteem and certain substances like caffeine.

What to do if your child has a panic attack

Your child having a panic attack can be scary for you too, but remember, while they are in distress, they are not in physical danger.

First and foremost, The Priory emphasises the importance of staying in control. "If your child is having a panic attack, it’s likely that they’ll feel as though they’ve lost control," the website explains.

"This is why it’s so important for you to stay in control for the duration of the panic attack. Try to stay calm and talk to them in a gentle and soothing voice. Tell them to take deep breaths and reassure them that the panic will be over soon.

"Once the panic attack seems to be subsiding, give them plenty of time and space to calm down."

Explaining to your child that a panic attack can speed up their breathing, as well as helping them to slow it down can also help.

"Tell your child to breathe in through their nose for three seconds (they should feel their chest expand when they do this), hold their breath for two seconds, before exhaling completely and fully," it recommends.

"Your child can then use this breathing strategy the next time they’re having a panic attack."

Read more: The most common mental health conditions - and where to get help

Watch: tackling children's anxiety by making worries come to life

Other more long-term solutions include teaching them about panic attacks and explaining that while scary, they aren't dangerous; encouraging them to face their fears gradually; challenging negative thinking by showing them some things are just thoughts and not facts; helping them shift their focus by concentrating on something happier and getting professional help.

Severe panic disorder may affect your child's development and learning, so if they have symptoms, they should see a GP to ensure they get help early on.

The doctors can rule out any other possible physical causes, and recommend them for treatment to help with panic attacks, should they need it. This could include cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), a type of talking therapy.

If severe, you also might want to consider talking to their school for more support and understanding.

For more information, visit NHS website pages on panic disorder and anxiety disorders in children.

If you are a parent or carer, you can get free help and advice about your child's mental health from Young Minds' free parent helpline on 0808 802 5544, from Monday to Friday, 9.30am to 4pm.