The road to raising children is never easy, and parents are bound to encounter many bumps along the way. For each stage of development that a child goes through, new challenges abound. If you are raising a toddler, you may already be familiar with temper tantrums, and the struggles of potty training. Although these are quite expected, there may be other instances, when you can be caught really off guard.

This can be the case when parents witness breath holding spells in children. Breath holding spells are brief intervals, when children involuntarily stop breathing. This can last up to one minute, and it can also lead to unconsciousness. This usually occurs as a reflexive response to pain, anger, frustration and fear in children. It is most common for children from ages 1 to 3 years old.

Breath holding spells can either be cyanotic or pallid, and the symptoms vary for each kind. The cyanotic type is most common, and it usually occurs when children are angry or frustrated. Typically, a child cries out, exhales and stops breathing. A child’s skin color then turns to red or blue-purple, and he may lose consciousness. Some children may also have a brief seizure. Breathing then resumes, and a child’s skin color returns to normal as he is regaining consciousness.

Pallid breath holding spells on the other hand, occur when a child is afraid or in pain. During the episode, a child may have a slowed heart rate, and he may have rapid loss of consciousness after he stops breathing. These spells typically produce pallor or a pale appearance to a child’s skin. If the spell lasts longer, a child may have a seizure, and he may also pass urine. After the spell, a child may show signs of sleepiness or fatigue. This type of breath holding spell is rare, and if you notice these symptoms frequently in your child, you need to see your health care provider for further evaluation.

The symptoms can definitely be frightening for most parents. Some parents may even mistakenly think that the behavior is a result of a seizure disorder, or a heart problem. However, seizures during a breath holding spell do not necessarily mean, that your child has a seizure disorder or epilepsy. It is essential that you pay attention to your child’s symptoms because your doctor needs to rule out other health problems, which may be causing the symptoms.

Since a child may be prone to injury during a spell, take steps to promote safety. Lay your child on his back on the floor, and make sure that there are no sharp objects or furniture nearby. If your child was eating prior to the spell, tilt his head to the side so that the food can come out on its own. Medications should never be given during a spell, and it is crucial for parents to time the spell. If your child has not started breathing again on his own within one minute, call 911 or your local emergency number for immediate help.

Despite its alarming symptoms, parents need to continue enforcing rules at home. Try to be firm and consistent in setting limits, and do not try to shield your child from the usual frustrations encountered by children. It is also important that your child gets enough night time sleep, and regular rest periods during the day. If your child is too tired, he may easily get frustrated. Be sure that you stick to your child’s daily routine, but allow him to make simple choices throughout the day. Try to make your child feel more secured by praising him for new skills learned, or even small achievements during the day.

Parents may find it hard to respond effectively when a child displays this behavior. However, it may be comforting to know that this is just a phase that some children go through. Breath holding spells also do not lead to seizure disorders, or any other health problems later in life. While it is a challenging time for both parents and child, it helps to know that it will soon come to pass.