Traumatic and post-traumatic stress are taking their toll on kids during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Children’s emotions and mental health have taken a big hit as coronavirus changed their daily life. Spring break went from a week of fun to the break that never ended, and as playmates, classmates, friends, teachers, and families all try and navigate what will happen next, kids are feeling the impact. An online chat is no substitute for a teacher, and yelling at your friend across the street, trading videos on TikTok, and texting can't replace in-person interactions. 

The mental impact the coronavirus pandemic and change in daily life has had on children is being looked at by experts and researchers who have found both short- and long-term effects. 

Anxiety, stress, and depression are being reported by kids of all ages, and in some cases, the sense of worry and uncertainty can get a little more serious. The experience has been traumatic; emotional and psychological trauma is defined as an extraordinarily stressful event that disrupts one’s sense of security and leaves them feeling helpless.

Shock, disbelief, fear, anger guilt, helplessness, sadness, grief, racing thoughts, nightmares, sleeplessness, and loss of appetite are all symptoms of traumatic stress that children experience. Adam D. Brown, PsyD, clinical assistant professor in the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at NYU Langone, addressed the issue of traumatic stress, kids, and COVID-19. 

“Traumatic events are typically situations that are out of our control, beyond our usual experience, and cause us to feel as though our lives or the lives of others may be in danger. The COVID-19 pandemic certainly is an unusual, unexpected event that is causing many to worry and even panic.”

sad boy at window
Courtesy of Pixabay

Every child’s situation is different, with Dr. Brown pointing out that the experience of children will vary greatly, depending on what's going on around the child in their specific surroundings.

"Some level of worry, confusion, or sadness at this time is to be expected," said Dr. Brown. "We need to look at what specific emotional and behavioral reactions might indicate traumatic stress, rather than post-traumatic stress, as the current stressors are ongoing."

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is something we hear about in adults, particularly those coming back from war or victims of a stressful or traumatic incident. PTSD develops when symptoms of a traumatic experience disrupt a person’s ability to function, and some studies indicate that children are experiencing this already, specifically those in a disadvantaged situation. 

A study done by the Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families in London reports that there's a significant physiological impact on children worldwide and advises schools and caregivers to be prepared to help children navigate through this stress. This study highlighted the impact that the pandemic will have on vulnerable groups, those with disabilities, or pre-existing mental conditions.

Helping children manage and work through these feelings is key. Dr. Brown advises consistency as much as possible, even if it's different than what that was pre-pandemic. He also advises sharing your own feelings with children.

The National Child Traumatic Stress Network has also provided a guidebook with resources for parents and families: Parent/Caregiver Guide to Helping Families Cope with the Coronavirus Disease 2019.

How are you helping your child deal with the stress, sadness, and other emotions they may be experiencing during the COVID-19 pandemic? Comment below.