Preventing Breath-Holding Spells in Children

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Topic Overview

As children learn to deal with frustration, fear, and anger, breath-holding spells become less frequent.

Parents may be able to prevent some spells by seeing that their child gets plenty of rest and that he or she feels secure. Some ways to help your child get enough rest include:

  • Having regular rest times for your child during the day.
  • Ensuring that your child gets adequate sleep at night.

Here are some ways you can help your child feel secure and less frustrated:

  • Have regular daily routines for your child.
  • Keep your home atmosphere calm.
  • Allow your child to make some simple choices, such as which shirt to wear.
  • Praise your child for behaving appropriately and meeting your expectations.
  • Praise your child when he or she learns and masters new tasks, and afterward when he or she does them well.

Encouraging your child to play alone will help your child develop a more positive self-image. This also can reduce feelings of frustration.

Some parents are so upset by breath-holding spells that they shelter the child from any and all frustrating situations or may fail to set consistent limits for the child in an effort to prevent the spells. As a result, the child doesn't learn other ways to express his or her frustration and anger.

Even if the parents' efforts succeed in preventing breath-holding spells, the behaviour problems may remain. To avoid this problem:

  • Do not overreact to your child's negative behaviour.
  • Do not overreact to breath-holding spells. When your child is beginning a spell, suggest an alternative way of expressing feelings of frustration, anger, and fear, such as "Use your words." After the spell, acknowledge your child's behaviour and feelings.
  • Avoid overprotecting or sheltering the child from the normal frustrations of childhood. Minimize unnecessary frustrations, but do not try to remove them all.
  • Remind yourself that breath-holding spells are not hurting the child and that the child will grow out of them in time.
  • Be firm, fair, and consistent when establishing discipline for your child. Set limits and follow through with consequences.

If you struggle with any of these issues, parenting classes or counselling can sometimes be helpful.


ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical ReviewerJohn Pope, MD - Pediatrics
Donald Sproule, MDCM, CCFP - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical ReviewerSusan C. Kim, MD - Pediatrics

Current as ofSeptember 9, 2014