Article Courtesy of | Tiffany Hammond,
L.P.C. Intern, Under the Supervision of
P. Jeremy Dew LPC-S of Oakwoord Roots
As we start trying to unpack the 2020-21 school year, understanding children’s reactions to the changes, the unknown, and uncharted traumatic circumstances related to COVID-19 (C-19) are critical in designing and navigating a ‘new normal.’
Trauma Behaviors in Children
Trauma responses are how children react and respond to traumatic events, and they may look different than most parents expect. Some children exhibit anticipated behaviors such as tearfulness and clinginess. However, others may experience reactions such as heightened irritability, sleeplessness, anger, fearfulness, depression, anxiousness, withdrawal, hopelessness, or loss/increase of appetite. Toddlers may exhibit regression that impacts development(al) milestones such as potty-training, thumb-sucking cessation, or adhering to bedtime routines. Adolescents and teens may express physiological/somatic symptoms such as stomach aches, headaches, or muscle spasms. It is also essential to understand that children typically live in the moment, unaware that their behaviors are in response to the underlying trauma, and they may be unable to explain their feelings.
Prior to C-19, the American Psychological Association reported teen suicide as the second leading cause of death for 15 to 24-year-olds. Therefore, being familiar with the warning signs and knowing how to respond is critical. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline uses F.A.C.T.S. acronym to help parents and caretakers be familiar with the warning signs of teen suicide:
Feelings – Expressing hopelessness about the future
Actions – Displaying severe/overwhelming pain or distress
Changes – Changes and showing worrisome behavioral cues or marked changes in behavior, including withdrawal from friends or changes in social activities, anger or hostility, or changes in sleep.
Threats – Talking about, writing about, or making plans for suicide.
Situations – Experiencing stressful situations, including those that involve loss, change, create personal humiliation or involve getting into trouble at home, in school,or with the law.
If these warning signs are noticed:
- Express concern about the observation in their behavior
- Ask directly about suicide
- Encourage the teen to call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255),or text the Crisis Text Line (text HELLO to 741741)Both services are available 24/7
- Involve an adult they trust.
*IMMEDIATE concern about someone’s safety should initiate an emergency 9-1-1 call!
Parenting Through Trauma
Listen empathetically to reassure children, validate their feelings, and explain why things are different in an age-appropriate manner. Even if answers are not available, straight forward and honest conversations help validate a child’s concerns and promote feelings of safety and stability. Keep answers to questions minimalistic but factual. For example:
- “Mom, will you get sick?”
- “Everyone gets sick sometimes. If I get sick, the doctor will help me feel better and get well.”
Routines are also helpful for children, especially for younger children. Routines promote security and feelings of being safe. Simple age-appropriate routines that include activities such as morning alarms set grooming schedules, education time, playtimes, meal times, and bedtimes are especially beneficial.
Relationships are important for children of all ages to feel connected and to keep feelings of isolation at bay. During shelter-in-place or quarantine, children may need help fostering and maintaining relationships outside of their immediate family. Although they may not be able to keep playdates or hang out at the local gym, they can use technology to stay connected. Making time for audio or video chat calls to family and friends can help maintain connections and promote feelings of security.
C-19 has created an increase in responsibilities for most parents and caretakers. Many have shifted to quarantine parenting, working, and being with their spouse 24/7 from home. Finding balance and practicing self-care in this new normal is critical. Setting aside and making time for activities such as exercising, meditating/praying, hobbies, and socializing are also beneficial. Although socializing can be a challenge, staying connected to family, other parents, and friends via phone or video chat can afford parents a safe space to vent frustrations, exchange ideas, and refuel.
Deciphering circumstances that are within or outside of our control are helpful. For example, parents do not control the impact that C-19 has had on the feelings of security and safety in the world, but they can take steps to create secure and safe feelings within their homes.
Professional Mental Health Help is available to support parents and children navigating traumatic experiences associated with C-19. Mental health provider recommendations may be found online, from family physicians, local schools, or by contacting insurance providers. Mental health providers include therapists with many titles such as psychologists, social workers, mental health counselors, or marriage and family therapists. All of these professionals are qualified; however, it important to make sure you agree with the therapist’s clinical approach (usually available online) and that they specialize in caring for children or families. Many providers are offering their full line of services safely through confidential telehealth applications.
Founded by the Oakwood Collaborative in September 2018, Oakwood Roots provides affordable counseling to the community of the Brazos Valley. Oakwood Roots hires and trains empathic and exceptional counselors who are completing their graduate studies or have already completed graduate studies in Texas. For more information about Oakwood Roots, visit oakwoodrootscounseling.com