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Preventing Breath-Holding Spells in Children


Parents may be able to prevent some spells by seeing that their child gets plenty of rest and feels secure. Here are some ways to help your child.

  • Have regular rest times for your child during the day.
  • Ensure that your child gets adequate sleep at night.
  • Have regular daily routines for your child.
  • Keep your home atmosphere calm.
  • Allow your child to make some simple choices.

    For example, let your child choose which shirt to wear.

  • Praise your child for behaving appropriately and meeting your expectations.
  • Praise your child when your child learns and masters new tasks, and afterward when your child does them well.
  • Encourage your child to play alone.

    This will help your child develop a more positive self-image and can also reduce feelings of frustration.

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

Helping yourself and your child cope with problem behaviour that causes breath-holding spells

If you have succeeded in preventing some of your child's breath-holding spells, problem behaviour may remain. Here are some tips to help your child.

  • Do not overreact to your child's negative behaviour.
  • Do not overreact to breath-holding spells.
  • Suggest an alternative way to express feelings of frustration, anger, or fear when your child begins a breath-holding spell.

    For example, remind your child to "use your words."

  • Acknowledge your child's behaviour and feelings after the breath-holding spell.
  • 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.


Current as of: March 1, 2023

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:
John Pope MD - Pediatrics
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Louis Pellegrino MD - Developmental Pediatrics