Kids May Be At Risk Of Post-Traumatic Stress. Here's How To Spot It

The Childhood Trust has warned lockdown may have long-term impacts on some children.

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Children may be at risk of post-traumatic stress linked to the pandemic, a new report warns, as some are having vivid nightmares related to the virus.

The report, from the Childhood Trust, states that children and young people are reporting higher instances of depression, anxiety and loneliness compared to older counterparts. “They are worried about contracting the virus, spreading it to their family members and losing loved ones,” the report says.

It notes that those who are also experiencing hunger and food insecurity due to school closures are likely to be among the worst affected, as are young carers.

“Current social distancing measures enforced on children because of Covid-19 are likely to increase the risk of depression and probably anxiety, as well as possible post-traumatic stress,” Dr Maria Loades said in the report.

So how can you tell if your child is at risk of long-term problems?

Children can show a range of different signs of stress or anxiety and we shouldn’t only be worried about post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) – defined as an anxiety disorder caused by frightening or distressing events – says child psychologist Dr Amanda Gummer, founder of Good Play Guide.

“General signs include irrational fears of things they used to be happy doing and being susceptible to emotional outbursts including tears or anger,” she tells HuffPost UK. “They may be clingier than usual, suffering separation anxiety.”

Dr Rosan, programme lead at the Mental Health Foundation, previously told HuffPost UK signs of PTSD in children may also include an increased heart rate, sweating, rapid breathing and changes in appetite.

Your child might become preoccupied with thoughts or images of an event or start experiencing nightmares and worrying it will happen again. “You may notice they’re less able to concentrate or become easily distracted,” she said.

Younger children might instead tell you they have a headache or stomachache, added Dr Rosan. And regressive behaviours are common, “such as a resurgence of bedwetting or thumb-sucking”.

There may be long-lasting impacts for all children, says Dr Gummer, but PTSD is usually associated with a specific traumatic event. Therefore children who have lost someone close, been strictly shielding, or been severely affected by the crisis are considered most at risk.

“General signs include irrational fears of things they used to be happy doing.”

- Dr Amanda Gummer, founder of Good Play Guide
Justin Paget via Getty Images

“The most important thing is to try and keep lines of communication open and ensure children have trusted adults they can talk to,” says Dr Gummer. “In severe cases, professional help may be needed, but there’s lots parents can do to reduce children’s anxieties and hopefully prevent things from escalating.”

It’s important your children know their feelings are valid. Try to give them space and the opportunity to open up to you by planning an activity together such as a game or baking – or go for a walk together where they lead the conversation.

“They may not open up straight away, but by making sure they know you have the time for them, are happy to listen and will try and empathise and not judge, they will be more likely to talk to you about their feelings over time,” she says. “Try and avoid asking too many direct questions – if it feels like an interview or interrogation, they’ll be more inclined to stay quiet.”

If you’re worried about self harm or if your child’s behaviour is having a serious or sustained impact on their ability to engage with normal family life, it may be time to seek professional help.

“Trust your gut – you know your child better than anyone and if you’re worried about him or her then it’s probably time to do something,” says Dr Gummer. “You can start by talking to a teacher or GP so that everyone can support your child together. ”

Useful websites and helplines:

Mind, open Monday to Friday, 9am-6pm on 0300 123 3393.

Samaritans offers a listening service which is open 24 hours a day, on 116 123 (UK and ROI - this number is FREE to call and will not appear on your phone bill).

CALM (the Campaign Against Living Miserably) offer a helpline open 5pm-midnight, 365 days a year, on 0800 58 58 58, and a webchat service.

The Mix is a free support service for people under 25. Call 0808 808 4994 or email

Rethink Mental Illness offers practical help through its advice line which can be reached on 0300 5000 927 (Monday to Friday 10am-4pm). More info can be found on