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Source: Krames StayWell

Breath-Holding Spell (Child)

Some young children react to distress, such as a scolding, upset, or trauma, by holding their breath. This is called a breath-holding spell. Breath-holding spells can be scary for both parents and children. But they are not a serious health problem.

During a breath-holding spell, your child holds his or her breath. His or her face may turn red, blue, or white. His or her body may go limp, or may be stiff. The child may then gasp and start crying or screaming. Or, he or she may even lose consciousness and start breathing again.

Some healthcare professionals view breath-holding spells as a way to communicate anger. Because the condition often runs in families, genetics may play a role. Usually the episodes stop between the ages of 4 and 8 years. They rarely cause the child any long-term problems.

Home Care:

General Care:

  1. Do not shield your child from emotions or give in to demands in order to prevent the spells.

  2. React calmly to anger yourself to show your child the appropriate way to respond

  3. Calmly redirect your child at the first sign of a spell. Try a hug or something interesting to look at.

During/After An Attack:

  1. Try to ignore the breath-holding spell. Lack of attention may lessen spells.

  2. Help lower your child to the floor if he or she is standing near a hard surface. Lie your child down flat.

  3. Apply a cool compress to your child’s forehead.

  4. Avoid putting anything in your child’s mouth. Do not try to give CPR or mouth-to-mouth.

  5. Avoid calling 911. The episode will be over soon.

  6. After a spell, stay relaxed. Hug your child, then continue what you were doing.

  7. After a temper tantrum or breath-holding spell, do not give in to your child’s demands. Set rules and boundaries for your child and stick with them.

Follow Up

as advised by the doctor or our staff.

Get Prompt Medical Attention

if any of the following occur:

  • Visible seizures or jerking motions

  • Breathing stops for more than 1 minute


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