A CBT Approach to Panic Disorder can Help Kids and Adolescents

The CBT approach to panic disorder focuses on changing those thoughts and breaking the chain of events leading up to a child anxiety attack.CBT presupposes that the child’s thoughts cause the feelings and behaviors which lead to a child anxiety attack.  Some of the key components of this approach are discussed below.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is the best researched treatment for panic disorder in kids and adults.


A CBT approach to panic disorder requires that children and adolescents are educated about what can cause anxiety attacks. Below is an example of how panic disorder therapy can explain the physiology behind an anxiety attack in a child.

A long time ago when we lived with the dinosaurs in caves it was very important for us to keep safe because they could eat us. So when we saw a dangerous creature our body would react in a way that would cause us to be safe. We would get a lot of energy, our heart would beat faster, we would feel stronger and we would be able to do what we needed to do to keep ourselves alive. Even thought there are no dinosaurs, our body still can get confused and think it in danger when it isn’t. That is what happens to you when you have an attack. But we can teach your mind and your body that you are safe, because there really aren’t any more dangerous creatures. Are there dinosaurs at school? Are there wolves in your bedroom? Also, there are lots of other kids that have anxiety attacks. You are not the only one! There are also adults that come to get help for this, and the help works and they feel much better.

Depending on the child’s age, a CBT approach to panic disorder may also consist of bibliotherapy (reading stories) or art therapy to illustrate some of the above points.
It is important to examine each child anxiety attack and help a child or adolescent figure out what the thoughts is that accompany the feelings and physical symptoms.

 Young children’s thoughts can often be uncovered through art work, while adolescents may prefer to verbally identify them.  A child can be told to   draw a picture of what happened during the attack. What was happening in their head and body? What kind of thoughts were they thinking? When taking a CBT approach to panic disorder, a therapist may also talk about the symptoms other kids have.   Talking about other kids who have a child panic attack helps kids to feel as if they are not so alone in this struggle.

Challenge the Thoughts

After uncovering the child’s thoughts before and during a child panic attack, those thoughts must be challenged.  Is it really true that they will die if they have to go to school tomorrow?  This kind of challenging of thoughts may go on for several sessions until child is able to work through this and do it on their own.  Children have an amazing sense of resiliency and often respond quicker to these interventions than adults.

Parent Participation

Each child or adolescent is different, but often a parent needs to be involved in the entire therapy session. Some kids feel more comfortable spending time alone in therapy and then sharing what they have learned at the end of the session. This gives them a sense of accomplishment.

Exposure Therapy

A child anxiety attack has a strong physical component and, therefore, it is essential teach children and adolescents how to relax their body.  A CBT approach to panic disorder will require the therapist to reproduce the physical symptoms a child has during a child anxiety attack while in the therapy session.  This is called exposure therapy.  Kids through are taken through a series of steps to cause sensations that mimic the child anxiety attack, and then practice techniques to control those attacks. Younger children may require more sessions to help them become more familiar with their bodies.

Panic Disorder and OCD may Co occur. If you see signs of OCD in yourself or your child, please review some of the following information.

OCD signs and symptoms

Or check out some more information here on Panic:

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Medical information obtained from our website is not intended as a substitute for professional care. If you have or suspect you have a problem, you should consult a healthcare provider.