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How Trauma Impacts Kids

Here we are approaching the end of a second full school year under the pandemic; a second year where school has not been “normal.” While many students have faced traumatic events in past years, the COVID-19 pandemic – a traumatic event by itself – has also amplified symptoms of other traumas our kids have experienced. The team at Laurel life is seeing not only an increasing number of mental health referrals but also an increase in the intensity of the reactions and behaviors children are experiencing.

Children have lost loved ones to COVID, seen their families deal with financial stress, watched a parent or sibling deal with substance use disorder, experienced an increase in domestic violence, or witnessed a variety of other traumatic events. Even kids who have not been directly impacted by these things often have friends who have. Add to this the unrest kids see on the nightly news and in social media, and it’s no surprise they are struggling.

Symptoms of Trauma in Kids

Many children have hit a wall. Their stress and anxiety levels are maxed out, and they are struggling to cope. Here are some of the most common symptoms children exhibit when dealing with traumatic experiences:

  • General lack of stamina

  • Lack of interest in activities they used to enjoy

  • Isolating themselves and pulling away from family and friends

  • Inability to sleep

  • Changes in behavior, such as getting into fights

  • Declining grades

  • Self-harming behaviors (cutting, eating disorders, substance misuse, etc.)

  • Suicide ideation (see important note, below!)

Trauma is Cumulative

Most people experience emotional trauma of some form in their lifetime. A traumatic incident may be a one-time occurrence, for example, an instance of bullying at school or the death of a beloved pet; or it may result from an ongoing situation like a custody battle between the child’s parents. The severity of the traumatic incident will also impact the ability of the child to cope, i.e., the death of a parent or sibling. Every instance of trauma builds on prior experiences of the individual. To a child whose brain is still developing, accumulated trauma can feel overwhelming.

How Can You Help Your Children?

The best thing you can do is talk about it. Ask open-ended questions. Listen to what your kids say…and what they don’t. Encourage family time where everyone steps away from their devices and turns off the news. Eat meals together and share the best (and most challenging) parts of everyone’s day.

Kids need to know there is nothing wrong with them for feeling overwhelmed. They are certainly not alone. They need to know their parents understand and are there to support them, no matter what. And they need to learn strategies to help them cope with the stress and anxiety.

Check our blog for other articles you may find useful. If you believe your child needs professional help, reach out.

Suicide Ideation

If your child or other loved one has mentioned suicidal thoughts, DO NOT DELAY IN SEEKING SUPPORT. Take action immediately by doing one of the following:

  1. Call 9-1-1 and tell the operator you/your child is experiencing a mental health crisis.

  2. Text “HOME” or “PA” to 741741 and a live trained crisis counselor will respond 24/7.

  3. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255. For Spanish language help, call 888-628-9454.

  4. Call the Pennsylvania Mental Health Hotline at 866-903-3787.

  5. PA Crisis Hotlines: Find a crisis line in your county.

  6. Find other mental health resources in Pennsylvania.


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