The Traumatic Effects of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Children

and What to Do

By By Stephanie Hewitt with Learning Pathways, 5/19/2020 June 4, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic is a historical event that is affecting everyone, including children. With schools

closed, social distancing measures, and sheltering-in-place, families are adapting to a new normal. Many

children are experiencing stress and trauma as their world has completed changed as they knew it. Here

are some of the effects of stress and trauma on children and things you can do to support them.

What Stress and Trauma Looks Like in Children

The COVID-19 pandemic is not going to be a traumatic event for every child. However, many kids are

feeling the effects and are psychologically impacted. Among those children that are more likely to be

traumatized by the pandemic are those with previous traumatic experiences, those who have lost a family

member to COVID-19, those who have pre-existing mental health conditions such as anxiety, and those

whose family has lost employment or income. Reactions that you might see in your children to this

traumatic event include regression in toilet training or bedwetting, increased tantrums, increased

clinginess, nightmares, and physical symptoms such as stomachaches and headaches. These same

reactions might be present in older children, as well as changes in appetite and/or sleep and isolating

themselves from friends and family,

What Parents Can Do

Here are some things parents can do to support their children and safeguard against the traumatic effects

of the pandemic:

1. Implement Schedules and Routines. Maintaining a consistent routine at home is a way to keep

things predictable and controlled when the rest of the world feels unpredictable and out of

control. It doesn’t need to be a color-coded schedule down to 15-minutes increments, but great if

you can and want to do that. Try to implement predictable and consistent routines around

everyday things, like schoolwork, mornings and getting ready for the day, mealtimes, and

bedtimes. For example, every night around bedtime your family’s routine might be to take a bath

or shower, change clothes, brush teeth, read books, then go to bed. Some kids benefit from a

simple visual schedule or checklist, laminated or placed in a plastic sheet cover, where they can

check off each step with a dry erase marker.

2. Prioritize Relationships. The key to healing from and protecting against trauma and stress is

relationships. Prioritize your relationship with your child over the need to complete schoolwork

or other tasks. If your child is visibly stressed out, both of you should step back from the situation

and re-connect. Hug them and let them know you are there for them. Incorporate relationship-

building activities into your week, such as one-on-one time with each child, having a family

movie night or game night, or prioritizing family dinners. Another tip for maintaining a strong

relationship is to make sure positive interactions (i.e. as praise, interest, and affection), outweigh

negative interactions (i.e. yelling, punishing, and dismissing) by at least a 5 to 1 ratio. If you do

lose your patience or yell at your children (and everyone does!), apologize and try to focus on

increasing those positive interactions.

3. Reinforce a Sense of Safety. Children need to feel safe. Honestly answer your children’s

questions about what is happening right now but don’t give too much information. Avoid

watching the news in front of your kids. Let your children know that you are there for them and

available to talk. Listen to them and validate their feelings. Reassure your children that they are

safe and the adults around them are working very hard to keep them safe. (i.e. “I hear you’re

feeling scared about what is going to happen. The adults around you are working hard to keep

you safe.”)

4. Self-Care. Take care of yourself. Monitor your stress reactions and recognize the stressful effects

of the pandemic on yourself. Make sure that you’re taking care of yourself with good nutrition,

sleep, and effectively managing your emotions. Model coping strategies in front of your kids (i.e.

“I’m feeling a little worried right now but I’m going to take some deep breaths and focus on

something else.”).

This time is challenging for everyone but with strong relationships and healthy coping strategies for us

and our kids, we can come out more resilient than ever.


American Academy of Pediatrics. 15 May, 2020. “Parenting in a Pandemic: Tips to Keep the Calm at

Home.” The AAP Parenting Website.


Kohli, Sonali. (7 May, 2020). “We need to prepare for the mental health effects of coronavirus on kids.”

Los Angeles Times.


The National Child Traumatic Stress Network. (1 March, 2020). “Parent/Caregiver Guide to Helping

Families Cope with the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19).

Teaching Tolerance. 23 May, 2020. “A Trauma-Informed Approach to Teaching Through Coronavirus.”

Stephanie Hewitt is a licensed educational psychologist with Learning Pathways in Folsom, CA (LEP

#3795). She provides educational assessments, consultation, and services for students struggling in school

and their families. She specializes in testing for learning disabilities, ADHD, and autism.

Learning Pathways, 916-235-3179,