COVID trauma in children is something parents and caregivers need to be aware of. Did your fun-loving child suddenly stop wanting to practice his favorite instrument? Did your sports enthusiast teenager lose all interest in the game? The impact of COVID-19 is more extensive than anyone could imagine. It has disrupted daily lives and created problems for everyone, including children and young adults. The mental health of millions of children is at stake. Here is what you need to know about COVID trauma and your child.
From the beginning of the pandemic, hospitals have seen increased mental health emergencies. The emergency department visits for children with mental health issues rose by 24% for children aged 5-11 and 31% for 12-17 between March and October 2020. (AAP 2021)
While most children come back to their daily functioning after receiving proper attention and care from parents, doctors, and caregivers, others are more suspectable of developing severe mental health problems, including depression, anxiety, and trauma-related stress. Those at a higher risk of emotional disturbance are children with pre-existing mental or physical health problems, prior trauma, mental health disorder, and young adolescents with substance or alcohol abuse or economic instability. (Dym Bartlett, et al. 2020)
Recognizing The Warning Signs of Children’s Mental Health Problems
The early signs of stress and deteriorating mental health conditions differ from one child to the next. Their response to stressful events is varied – one child could be irritable while the other may demand extra attention or have trouble with self-care. But you can find a few common symptoms amongst all of them.
Toddlers, infants, and young children:
- Fussiness, startling and crying more quickly, and difficult to console
- Trouble sleeping or waking up more during the night
- Nausea and vomiting, constipation or loose stools, or stomach pain
- Anxious when separated from their family even briefly, clinginess or not wanting to socialize, and fear of going outside
- Hitting, frustration, biting, and more intense tantrums
- Bedwetting even after they’re potty trained
- Aggressive behavior
Older children and adolescents:
- Unusual mood swings such as ongoing irritability, feelings of rage or hopelessness, and frequent conflicts with family and friends
- Behavioral changes or showing less interest in personal relationships. For example, if your outgoing teen stops communicating with friends, it’s a cause for concern.
- Hard time falling asleep, or feeling sleepy all the time
- Changes in weight or eating patterns like never being hungry or eating all the time
- Disrupted thinking, problems with memory or concentration
- Losing interest in schoolwork or drop in academic effort
- Changes in appearance – lack of personal hygiene
- Reckless behaviors, such as consuming drugs or alcohol
- Death or suicidal thoughts, or talking about it
COVID Trauma in Children – What to Do
Communicating with your children about their changing emotions can help them be open to learning positive preventive measures. It will boost their confidence and develop a sense of self-control. Here are a few things parents and caregivers can encourage them to do:
Stay physically active: It could help immensely to include some form of exercise in your child’s routine. For example, deep breathing is a great way to calm the nervous system. You can do breathing exercises with your children. Even a few minutes of physical activity every day will keep them active and focused.
Establish a daily routine: The faster you set the pattern for the child, the easier it will be to get into a habit. It will help them sleep better, eat healthy food and gradually start enjoying the day.
Indulge more in family activities: Take time out to do some fun activities together like cooking a Sunday meal or decorating a room. Children learn to take more charge of tasks and feel confident.
Limit their screen time: Screen-time should have boundaries. But, don’t try to force strict rules around it, instead talk to them and arrive at mutually agreeable time limit.
Seek medical help when necessary: Don’t forget to stay in touch with the pediatrician even more during the pandemic. If you have noticed any warning signs or have concerns regarding your child’s changing patterns, ask the doctor to check your child’s physical and mental health.
Sometimes, it’s difficult for children to show their emotions transparently. They look to adults for guidance on how to react in stressful situations. While talking to them openly and showing some concern will help them understand the seriousness of their problems, parents and caregivers can be ready to take appropriate action around family mental health, and COVID trauma in children.
AAP, American Academy of Pediatrics. “Mental Health during COVID-19: Signs Your Child May Need More Support.” HealthyChildren.org, 21 Dec. 2021, www.healthychildren.org/English/health-issues/conditions/COVID-19/Pages/Signs-your-Teen-May-Need-More-Support.aspx.
Dym Bartlett,, Jessica, et al. “Resources for Supporting Children’s Emotional Well-Being during the COVID-19 Pandemic.” Child Trends, 19 Mar. 2020, www.childtrends.org/publications/resources-for-supporting-childrens-emotional-well-being-during-the-covid-19-pandemic.
Sievering, Kathy. “Helping Children Cope With Changes Resulting From COVID-19.” National Association of School Psychologists (NASP), 2020, www.nasponline.org/resources-and-publications/resources-and-podcasts/school-safety-and-crisis/health-crisis-resources/helping-children-cope-with-changes-resulting-from-covid-19.