Anxiety and Panic Attacks in Young Children

This is an issue that we believe is becoming more and more common for our young children and people in today’s society. While everyone experiences anxiety at some point in their lives, some of our young people experience anxiety more than the average person. At Learn Sense Grow we often see anxiety being projected through other emotions and actions, and having a functional impact on our young people, and their families lives.

What is anxiety?

Anxiety is a survival instinct and response to our brain perceiving that we are in a threatening situation. It is a safety mechanism that helps us to get out of dangerous situations; so it serves a helpful purpose in our body when we are in these situations. As children come across new experiences and situations, anxiety or worry is ‘normal’ to some degree. A typical response is when children learn to cope with their fears and worries. However, in some of our young people, their brain perceives that they are in danger, even when they are not in fearful or new situations, and they find it difficult to overcome these fears or remain calm. This is anxiety.

Anxiety and technology:

As technology is becoming more common and unavoidable in our society, we are seeing many young people impacted by anxiety as a result of social interactions. The rise of technology has largely meant that we focus less on interpersonal, face to face situations, creating a stress response around real time social reactions. For many of our young people who also experience social awareness challenges, this creates a heightened sense of anxiety around environments where in person communication is necessary.

How can anxiety impact young people?

When our body perceives that we are in danger, our autonomic nervous system kicks into gear and generally reacts in three main ways;

  • Fight; becoming verbally or physically aggressive
  • Flight; running or walking away from a situation, or refusing to go to a situation
  • Freeze; mind goes blank, physically freezing when required to perform/speak.

When children have this response to typical or ‘normal’ situations, this has a number of physiological and functional impacts. It can stop them from participating in school, home or community activities, can isolate them from their peers or family and can discourage them from completing age appropriate tasks. This can lead to avoiding these fearful or anxiety provoking situations, so the child may feel that they are more fearful and unable to manage it next time.

Outside of the triggering situation, anxiety can also have physical and cognitive impacts. In some situations, we see children who experience physical symptoms such as panic attacks, stomach aches, headaches and sleeplessness outside of the fearful event. Cognitive symptoms are equally as debilitating, as young people can experience irritability, difficulty concentrating, overthinking and ruminating over situations.

What is a panic attack?

In some circumstances, if a child experiences regular anxiety, they may also experience ‘panic attacks’. ‘Panic attacks’ can develop quickly without any warning or triggering situation present, as a result of anxious feelings. They can last from minutes to hours, and generally have a number of the following symptoms:

  • Heart races or pounds
  • Dizziness or light-headedness
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Feeling smothered or being short of breath
  • Intense fearfulness
  • Loss of reality


Panic attacks can have significantly debilitating impacts on the child and their family.

What can I do if my child experiences anxiety or panic attacks?

Learn Sense Grow strongly encourages you to seek advice from your doctor, a Psychologist and/or Occupational Therapist if your child is experiencing any of the above symptoms. Therapy and intervention will differ depending on the severity and regularity of symptoms. It is important to seek assistance when your child first experiences these symptoms, as early intervention is key. If left untreated, it can have an impact on a young person’s mental, emotional and functional ability, further impacting life at school, home and in the community.

Through a collaborative approach, working with the child’s family and school, and better understanding the young person’s triggers, panic attacks can often be stopped and anxious symptoms can be lessened so that the young person can reach their fullest potential.

With Global changes in the world as a result of COVID, we are more aware than ever of mental health. Medicare has increased rebates to support people experiencing such difficulties. At Learn Sense Grow we have Occupational Therapist’s with Mental Health Care provider numbers so that you can access these supports and better support your child. A GP referral under this scheme is required.

Please contact us for any further information or recommendations today.