Panic Attacks in Children at Night

I must admit that bedtime around here is usually met with the whines and whimpers of “but it’s not time yet?” or “Oh, I didn’t tell you about this” and most commonly, “I don’t want to go to bed because I don’t want to go to school tomorrow?”.

Anxiety in Children

It never ceases to amaze me just how much worry comes out of such small bodies. Worries about the next day, what’s the schedule, what’s in store, is there anything unexpected. Most recently, the biggest worry and anxiety has come in the verbalization of, “what if I can’t do it”. Summertime is no different because the structure is gone and the days are all chaotic; nothing like the school year. Anxiety in our house never takes a rest without ample effort on all of our parts to stop it at the pass. Sometimes we have success and other times not so much.

Bedtime Routine

Quite often it leaves us all over tired, over stimulated and overwhelmed. So how do we stop this roller coaster and turn it into a peaceful evening? What’s the best tool in our toolbox for bedtime routine? Well, the good thing is that there isn’t just one thing because each day, each experience, each new challenge and victory need to pull from different resources. Being well prepared is the key ingredient. Here are some of the tools that we find most helpful in turning bedtime panic into bedtime peace.

Listen to their Fears

This is probably the most important tools of them all. Give yourself more than enough time to have those conversations that can only happen at night. It seems like no matter how much we encourage talking about the day prior to bedtime the fears, worries and anxiety always rear its ugly head just as we are ready to brush teeth. That’s okay though. We’ve established that for us this is the best time to let it all go.

You know the saying that you never go to bed angry? Well, in our house we never go to bed without kicking the anxiety to the curb. Whether its panic attacks or night time anxiety it all needs to be dealt with and as long as you are prepared to really listen it will help your child feel confident and at ease.

During this time there is no rush, no cutting off the conversation. This is your child’s time to feel out what they need to verbalize.

Stick to a Bed Time

I must admit that it is tempting on the weekends to let go of the usual 9:00p.m. bedtime but it only makes for a disastrous outcome. My daughter is so used to talking about the things that trouble her that no matter what time it is she still wants to talk. I’m grateful that we have an open door of communication a comfort level that allows her to express herself so candidly.

The trouble is at 10:00 p.m. it is really difficult to keep an unconditionally understanding perspective when you are exhausted. Routine for most children with anxiety really does help to assure them of all upcoming events and that there are no surprises. Keeping in mind that you’ll be spending more time listening you may have to try this out a couple of times before you find that happy medium where you child feel content and it isn’t too late.

Deep Breathing for Kids with Anxiety

So now we have gotten changed, we have brushed teeth and we have listened to all the fears, worries and concerns and addressed them accordingly. Together we take a few minutes to breathe. My daughter puts her hands on her belly and I put my hand a top of hers and I ask her to breathe and push my hand up as far as she can.

For my daughter and I’m sure other children it is hard to relax. It took me a while to learn how to let go of everything. So when she’s anxious this isn’t always the easiest thing to do but with time and repetition it will come together. They don’t have to be lying down. Whatever position that’s comfortable can work.

Many studies have found the tremendous benefits of deep breathing. Just 5 minutes of deep breathing from your diaphragm helps your lymphatic system work better, which in turn makes everything in your body function well.

Affirmations

Each night there are a series of phrases that my daughter recites. She has come up with these positive affirmations that empower her and allow her to retain the positive thoughts as she’s getting sleepy and her brain is shifting into the Alpha State; the state of heightened inspiration.
Together you can form your own affirmations but as an example here are some of the things coming from our house:

I am loved
I am creative
I am strong
I am beautiful
I can do anything I set my mind to

Ladder

Last summer we took a great anxiety course that helped us to understand how to break the worries and fears down into sizable steps. The idea is that you don’t go to the top of the ladder first thing; you need to go step by step to reach the top. You will need to write this down and night time might not be the best time to do this. It helps to listen to each of the worries, anxiety, fears and difficulties carefully as each theme will help to lessen the stress of bedtime.

  1. First write down a practical goal. For example: Going to bed without a night light on.
  2. List all the possible steps to break the worry down into. For example: sitting in the bedroom with my mom with the light left off for 2 minutes.
  3. Give each of these steps a worry rating. 1 being not so much worry at all and 10 being big worry.
  4. Put them all in order of worry lowest to highest.
  5. Write the steps out and then create a reward for each step. For example: sitting in the bedroom with my mom with the light left off for 2 minutes creates a reward of reading a short story.

You don’t move forward to the next step until the one that you are on is at a ‘zero’ for the child.

Sleep and bedtime routines should be a welcoming environment not one met with anxiety and trepidation and as I mentioned before each night is different. Some nights we only need to do one or two things on this list and others it’s the full spectrum. We are always looking to add more items to our toolbox because as my daughter grows and learns and experiences life things will inevitably get left to ponder in the wee hours of the evening.

Final Word

At the end of the evening as you are going through some of these steps with your child it wouldn’t hurt to follow along with them. We could all take a couple minutes to slow down. Remember that sleep is the best time to dream and dreaming leads to infinite possibilities and infinite possibilities leads to happiness and happiness is so good for the soul.

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