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At-Risk: What is the Impact of Prolonged Stress on Children?

How will the prolonged stress of a global pandemic impact children’s well-being? Researchers and experts are concerned.

As the global community embarks on the second year of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s becoming clear that some of the greatest impacts will be on children. They have experienced significant upheaval and extreme stress levels.

Pandemic Stress: A New Normal

Researches say most people may not think first of children when they consider this pandemic. But in many ways, they may be among its biggest victims. Their lives have changed in profound ways on a global basis.

UNICEF notes in its Datahub article “COVID-19 and Children”: “All children, of all ages, and in all countries, are being affected. In particular by the socio-economic impacts and, in some cases, by mitigation measures that may inadvertently do more harm than good.”


According to a report by the American Academy of Pediatrics:

“The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has created profound challenges for communities, families, and individuals, leading to a range of emotional and behavioral responses. There are many factors unique to this pandemic…that increase its effects on emotional and behavioral health (EBH). Populations with a higher baseline risk, such as historically under-resourced communities, populations facing inequities, and children and youth with special health care needs, may be especially vulnerable to these effects. The impact of the pandemic is also compounded by isolation and an interruption in the support and service systems families utilize, including school, healthcare services, and other community supports.”

Stress Impacts on Children Vary

Some families have navigated the pandemic relatively unscathed. But others have experienced complete upheaval, death, job loss, food insecurity, death, and more.

In an interview with GBH News, Adam D. Brown, clinical assistant professor in the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at NYU Langone shared concerns. “All of us are exposed to something stressful, but within that, we each have our own experience of the pain of it,” said Langone. “Some kids may be experiencing events that are traumatic, like experiencing loved ones or close friends who are sick or have died. That makes their experience have another level of complexity on top of what everybody else is experiencing. It’s important not to put everybody into the same category because kids are having different experiences.”

The DataHub article adds: “The harmful effects of this pandemic will not be distributed equally. They are expected to be most damaging for children in the poorest countries, and in the poorest neighborhoods, and for those in already disadvantaged or vulnerable situations.”

What Is the Result of Prolonged Stress?

Researchers suggest that prolonged stress can alter a child’s development. “Children are especially vulnerable to this repeated stress activation. Their brains and bodies are in a critical and sensitive period of development,” according to a Nationwide Children’s article on toxic stress.

Signs of prolonged stress can include:

  • Signs of developmental regression, such as recurrent bedwetting.
  • Nightmares or insomnia.
  • compulsive behaviors, such as hoarding food or seeking constant reassurance.
  • loss of appetite or other changes in eating habits.
  • frequent headaches.
  • stomachaches.
  • physical symptoms or complaints with no physical illness.

 

Learn about the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) study.

Read the UNICEF Datahub information here.

Read the American Association of Pediatrics article here.

Find out ways to help kids use their 5 senses to reduce stress here.

Download a free coloring page and discussion guide here.


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At-Risk: What is the Impact of Prolon...

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