Are Your Children Being Traumatized by COVID?

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All of us, including our children, will forever remember this time.

Make no mistake, this time is going to be more impactful than we imagined. There is a difference between impact and trauma. At what point are our children being traumatized? How will they react to what is beginning to look like a year or more of restricted living?

Traumatized children

What is trauma?

There are three types of trauma:

  • Acute trauma: This results from a single stressful or dangerous event.
  • Chronic trauma: This results from repeated and prolonged exposure to highly stressful events. Examples include cases of child abuse, bullying, or domestic violence.
  • Complex trauma: This results from exposure to multiple traumatic events.

Acute Trauma

Acute trauma on its own can have a lifelong effect on children as indicated in a study released in 2018. Not only are the effects physical, but there are emotional and psychiatric effects that can last a lifetime, says Lawrence Amsel, MD, of the Columbia University Department of Psychiatry. 

A study of children that followed children who lived in the immediate vicinity of the World Trade Center when they fell showed that those with direct exposure were more likely to: 

”have had a psychiatric disorder in the past year (36%), compared to those not exposed (28%), and those exposed were more likely to have any lifetime physical health condition (27%), compared with the control group (11%)”


“…the most dramatic finding came in the increased risk among those exposed to have physical—psychiatric comorbidity. The exposed group was 4 times more likely to experience this than the control group (13.0% of those directly-exposed compared with 3.7% of unexposed subjects)”  (https://www.ajmc.com/view/study-of-children-of-911-reveals-longterm-effects-of-childhood-trauma)

That is in reaction to one major event. Acute trauma can occur to anyone of any age when exposed to a potentially life-threatening event. That means the individual perceives the event as life-threatening. Your children can experience trauma when:

-You or your family have lost someone due to COVID 19.

-You perceive and portray COVID as life-threatening,

Chronic Trauma

However, in the current context, it is far more likely that your children will experience chronic trauma. Chronic trauma is due to ongoing stress. If there is a tendency to bully in your household already, no doubt this has been further triggered by the stress of our restricted lives. We are all under more stress and it often comes out sideways and onto our family. How that stress shows up in our family impacts our children daily.  Another article states that this is about our children’s perception of the experience:

A child’s perception of events is as important as what actually occurred. “While a child’s life may not have actually been in danger, the child may have seen it as life-threatening,” says Dr. Kerry Ressler, a psychiatry professor at Harvard Medical School.  https://www.health.harvard.edu/diseases-and-conditions/past-trauma-may-haunt-your-future-health

Given the ongoing nature of what we are all experience, the chances are far higher that our children will be experiencing chronic trauma. However, the biggest and most likely danger is complex trauma. 

Complex Trauma

Complex trauma occurs when we’re impacted by multiple stressors which is where we all find ourselves around the world today. The validity of this concern is supported by census bureau data that shows that almost a third of Americans are suffering from signs of clinical depression and/or anxiety, almost double that of a national survey in 2014. 


What can you do?

We all need to put the oxygen mask on ourselves first and our children next. First and foremost make sure you and your children’s caregivers are healthy and well. That you all have strong well-being practices in your lives to support you throughout these times of change. Next, build the habits in your family that uplift your children.

Practice restraint of pen and tongue when you want to talk about stressful events. Save conversations about stressful events for after your kids are asleep or for when they cannot hear you. Avoid fighting in front of your kids. Speak faith and confidence in your children continuously. Assure them how much you love them and your faith in the future. If this feels like a lie to you or if any of the above is difficult, get some help. Reach out to friends and/or a spiritual advisor, therapist, and/or coach. Take the steps you need to keep you and your family on an even keel!