HELP!!! My 5yr old stepdaughter had a panic attack

Jade Lorenalti Hernandez - posted on 03/16/2013 ( 1 mom has responded )

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Last week when i picked my stepdaughter, she freaked out....seriously FREAKED OUT!!
It was so bad i had to call my mother in law for advice....i was stuck. Heres what happened:

Last week as she was coming out of school she spotted me and i saw it immediately in her face, she had a moment of "yay" and it switched immediately to "fear". I went to hug her hello and her first words where "youre not allowed to pick me up" Her teacher told her she was being silly, of course im allowed to pick her up. Like striking a match, everything escalated quickly. She started screaming and crying, kicking and flailing her little arms around and hollering "Im not allowed to go with you, I cant go with you." This has NEVER happened before, EVER. I didnt know what to do. I didnt want anyone to think i was kidnapping her or actually TAKING her, so I called my mother in law and told her what was going on.
My motherinlaw assumed that my stepdaughter was just acting out, she told me, just pick her up and go. I know this kid pretty damn well by now. I know when shes fake crying, i know when shes doing things for attention, i know when shes acting out...and this was not just acting out. The FEAR in her eyes, the shock in her face...I was afraid to make things worse by forcebly picking her up.

I didnt want to force her to come with me, so I figured i would sit with her on the bench until she cooled down enough to walk on her own. I asked her why she thought I wasn't allowed to pick her up, but she was hyperventilating and crying so badly that the words were just not coming out. Her little head was on my lap as she cried, I caressed her back and just tried to calm and talk her down. I reminded her that when she's coming to daddy's I always pick her up and we decide what to make for dinner together. I reminded her that daddy called her last night to tell her he was getting home late from work, but she was allowed to stay up late and watch a princess movie after dinner with me until he came home and he would put her to bed. It broke my heart you guys...she was so panic stricken. It took almost 30 minutes, but she finally calmed down. She was so exhausted from the episode, fell asleep on the way home. Poor thing :,-(

Ive been picking up my stepdaughter from school every other friday, and when ever shes coming to our house for almost two years now. We have our after school routine, I pick her up, we have a little lunch at our special place, (unless we feel naughty we go to Mcdonalds and get french fries and dip them in milk shakes lol) before doing groceries and then we go home.

I dont understand why she would think I wasn't allowed to pick her up....I don't understand the PANIC.

Well we hoped that would be a one time thing, but when my mother picked her up last wednesday (she goes to my inlaws EVERY wednesday and has dinner with them) the exact same thing happened.

Is this some sort of phase? Has this every happened to any else?
Any advice on how to handle the situation better if it happens this friday when i go to pick her up again?

Id love to hear what you ladies think.

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Julie - posted on 03/17/2013

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I am totally hypothesizing, so forgive me if I am wrong.
Nor am I an expert on panic attacks by any mean but I think your step daughter is acting out her internal emotional stress/anxiety. Mixed feelings about her relationship with you, yours with her father and maybe feeling responsible for the break up of her parents.
It is true that no matter how hard the parents on both sides try to explain, and reassure a child of divorce that it is NOT there fault, they ALWAYS seem to blame themselves in one way or another.
It is possible these panic attacks are a sub conscious, dramatic way of letting you know. A "cry for help" if you will.
Children do not know how to express what they are feeling or why. It usually manifest in other ways, headaches, tummy aches, meltdowns and panic attacks. Anxiety over one's home situation is a real fear. Aside from feeling loved, they need to feel safe and secure. Some more than others. Transition can be so hard on adults, sometimes they forget how much the child is struggling.
The adolescent brain is not developed enough to process rationally. Flipping out is her primal response to feelings she can not identify. Maybe she thinks, if she keeps going with you, she is choosing sides, or failing her mother?
She may even have love and affection for you while still feeling the need to be "loyal" This conflict of interest could give anyone a panic attack. Poor thing. Fear of abandonment is another side effect of divorce families.
It may be a good idea for her to speak to with a third party that she feels safe expressing feelings to and not feel obligated to "say the right thing".
Meanwhile, try really listening to her, instead of doing the talking. You sound like a wonder step mom, and don't be hard on yourself. all the best!

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