Here’s a scary tantrum side effect: Your toddler is wailing and screaming so hard that they pass out! If you’ve experienced this frightening situation firsthand, you’ve probably wondered how to deal with toddler breath-holding spells in the moment…and more importantly, how to prevent them from happening again.  

The good news is that while breath-holding during a tantrum looks really scary, fortunately it’s usually not a big deal. Typically, what happens is that young toddlers (15- to 30-month-olds) suddenly get upset (mad, scared, or startled) and try to cry, but although their mouths open, no sound comes out. For 30 to 40 seconds, they keep getting bluer (or paler) until they pass out. (Sometimes the body may twitch a little too.)

In essence, these kids “forget” to breathe! But the instant they pass out, their breathing starts again automatically, and they revive in seconds.

If you can reach your child before he passes out, wet your hand and sprinkle a little cool water right in his face or puff hard a few inches from his face for several seconds (like you’re blowing out birthday candles). This can often prevent a spell and make the child gasp, sputter, and start breathing.

Simple breath-holding spells are not dangerous. There is no risk of injury (as long as they don’t fall and hit their heads). Nevertheless, you should immediately call your doctor to make sure it wasn’t due to a seizure or other medical condition (like anemia). Ask your healthcare provider if your child needs an iron supplement to keep the spells from happening again. 

Hopefully reading this has made you feel like you can…breathe a little easier.

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