Coping with Temporary Breath Holding in Children: Understanding and Managing the Condition

Created by Doctor Kim, 4 months ago

Temporary breath holding in children is a common phenomenon that can often lead to panic and concern among parents. It is important for caregivers to understand the causes and appropriate responses to this condition. By gaining insights into the symptoms, reasons, and proper management techniques, parents can effectively cope with temporary breath holding episodes in their children.

coping with temporary breath holding in children understanding and managing the condition

Symptoms of Temporary Breath Holding in Children

Temporary breath holding in children is characterized by the following features and symptoms:

  • Emotional Triggers: The child becomes upset due to various factors such as frustration, anger, injury, or fear.
  • Crying and Breath Holding: The child emits one or two prolonged cries, followed by a sudden breath-holding episode.
  • Pallor and Muscle Stiffness: During the breath-holding episode, the child's lips may turn pale, and in some cases, the child may experience muscle stiffness, convulsions, or twitches.
  • Resumption of Breathing: After holding their breath, the child exhales and typically resumes normal breathing within a minute. They become fully awake during this time.
  • Age Range: Temporary breath holding episodes usually occur between the ages of 6 months and 2 years.
  • Awake Condition: These episodes occur exclusively when the child is awake.
It is important to note that if the child exhibits additional symptoms or if there are concerns about their well-being, it is advisable to seek medical attention.

Reasons for Temporary Breath Holding in Children

Temporary breath holding, including holding one's breath when angry, is a relatively common response observed in children. Typically, these episodes occur one to two times a day or one to two times a month and tend to resolve by the age of 4 or 5 years. Temporary breath holding is not considered dangerous and is unlikely to result in epilepsy or brain damage.

When to Seek Medical Assistance

While temporary breath holding episodes are generally harmless, there are specific situations where immediate medical attention is warranted. 

Caregivers should seek medical help if their child:

Does not resume breathing for more than one minute (in this case, emergency services should be contacted).

  • Remains unconscious for more than one minute.
  • Is younger than 6 months old and turns pale during an episode.
  • Exhibits symptoms of paleness that are more severe than usual.

Additionally, it is recommended to contact a doctor if the child experiences seizures during breath holding episodes, has frequent weekly episodes, or if there are any other concerns regarding their condition.

Caring for a Child during a Breath Holding Episode

When a child experiences a temporary breath holding episode, caregivers should remain calm and take the following steps:

  • Positioning: Lay the child down to enhance blood flow to the brain, which can help prevent muscle twitches.
  • Cooling Measures: Place a cold, wet washcloth on the child's forehead until they resume normal breathing.
  • Timing the Episode: Use a stopwatch or timer to track the duration of the episode, which can be helpful for medical professionals to assess the situation.

Importantly, caregivers should avoid placing anything in the child's mouth during an episode, as this could lead to choking or vomiting. It is crucial to refrain from shaking the child, as it may result in brain bleeding.

Post-Episode Treatment and Preventive Strategies

After a temporary breath holding episode, it is essential to provide reassurance and comfort to the child. Caregivers should return to their usual activities and remain as relaxed as possible. It is crucial not to convey fear or anxiety to the child, as this could reinforce the behavior. If the episode occurs during a temper tantrum, it is important not to give in to the child's demands after the breath holding episode ends.

Instead, it is important to communicate to the child that temporary breath holding will not be effective in achieving their desired outcome. By setting consistent boundaries and not reinforcing the behavior, caregivers can help discourage future episodes.

Preventing temporary breath holding episodes can be challenging, but there are strategies that can be effective in reducing their frequency. Most episodes occur due to sudden falls or unexpected scares, as well as feelings of anger or frustration. However, some children can be distracted from holding their breath temporarily if they are engaged in other activities. 

coping with temporary breath holding in children understanding and managing the condition

Caregivers can try the following approaches:

  • Distraction Techniques: Call the child's attention to something interesting or engage them in a different activity to divert their focus from the trigger.
  • Offering Alternatives: Offer the child a preferred item or activity, such as a glass of juice, to shift their attention and diffuse the emotional tension.
  • Addressing Dependency: In cases where breath holding episodes occur frequently, it is possible that the child has learned to use this behavior to manipulate their environment. Caregivers should be firm and avoid giving in to the child's demands immediately after an episode. This helps teach the child that breath holding is not an effective strategy to get what they want.
It is important to note that the primary risk associated with temporary breath holding is not brain damage but rather the potential for accidents or injuries. If a child starts to hold their breath while standing near a hard surface, caregivers should quickly approach and gently lower them to prevent any potential harm.


Temporary breath holding episodes can be distressing for parents, but it is essential to understand that they are typically harmless and part of normal development in young children. 

By recognizing the symptoms, knowing when to seek medical attention, and implementing appropriate care strategies, parents and caregivers can effectively cope with and manage these episodes. Consistency, reassurance, and setting boundaries are key elements in preventing and minimizing the occurrence of temporary breath holding episodes in children.

Answered by Doctor Kim, 4 months ago