Most parents would probably rush to the ER if their child suddenly stopped breathing, passed out, and turned blue. So, what if I told you there’s a small chance you’re better off doing nothing at all? According to ABC News, child psychologists have identified a scary new behavior known as Breath Holding Spell - or BHS. It occurs in about 5% of toddlers, usually between the ages of one and three. While Breath Holding Spell appears dramatic and serious, in most cases it’s nothing more than a cry for attention. That’s the word from child psychologist Dr. Rahil Briggs. He says young children are desperate for attention, and some kids discover they can get the attention they crave by holding their breath in a dramatic way – sort of like how other kids might throw a loud temper tantrum, or bang their head against a wall.
The good news is that BHS is rarely dangerous. That’s because the body’s natural reflexes will always kick in before a child can hold their breath long enough to do any long-term physical harm.
So, how can you tell if your child has stopped breathing on purpose? Unfortunately, you can’t. Not at first, anyway. Doctors say unless your child has already been diagnosed with Breath Holding Spell, you should always get them checked out ASAP, because in some rare cases, breath holding can be associated with a serious medical condition – like anemia, or a cardiac disorder. However, if your child checks out fine, and then continues to hold their breath in a dramatic way, your doctor may prescribe one of the oldest parenting tricks in the book: Ignoring your child. That’s because parents can generally ward off attention-seeking behaviors like Breath Holding Spell by not rushing to a child’s side every time they act up. Most children will outgrow BHS once they learn to express themselves in a more sophisticated way. In fact, psychologists say the more positive attention a child gets from Mom and Dad, the less time they’ll spend looking for attention in negative ways.