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Expert weighs in on how kids are coping with the global trauma of COVID-19

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Courtesy womenshealth.gov
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We’ve all heard a lot of talk about trauma since the pandemic shutdowns began almost a year ago. Dr. Stephanie Grant is the director of community training and advocacy at Development Enhancement, a behavioral health organization in Holland, Michigan.

“When we talk about trauma, we’re talking about an event that is deeply distressing to someone whether that’s physically or psychologically,” Grant explains. “So, having experienced a trauma event is not at all the same thing as being traumatized. Traumatization is the body and the brain’s response to that event and specifically response that doesn’t go away even with some support and a little bit of time.”

Grant says just like the adults in their lives, kids are showing signs of the trauma event we’ve all experienced over the past year.

“We’re right now short-term seeing a lot of regression behaviors,” Grant says. “So, a lot of parents will report increased anxiety in kids; behaviors like skin picking, nail biting, pulling hair, more bed-wetting, watching the same shows over and over and over. We’re seeing more nightmares, more trouble getting to sleep, more separation anxiety.”

But Grant’s thoughts on how K-12 students have fared academically in all of this might surprise you.

“We’re going to see more and more data that shows that students didn’t learn as much this year but I’m going to be honest: I’m ok with that,” she says. “I really struggle when people start talking about how students are underperforming, and I really want to holler back ‘Underperforming compared to what? Compared to the last time we were in a global pandemic?!’ It’s not fair and its definitely not statistically accurate to compare how students are doing right now to how students are doing in other years.”

“Students are not falling behind,” Grant continues. “Students are doing their best in the middle of a global trauma event, and I’m very, very happy with how well we’re doing as an educational system in our state with that.”

Whatever age we are, Grant says that as we move forward, healing will look different for everyone. But it’s going to be getting back into community as soon as it is safe that will be the key for much of society to heal.

“Attending concerts and basketball games and campfires and other just collective places of being--I think that’s going to be a really important step that we just learn to exist together again without maybe any goal. Without any agenda. That we can just be together,” Grant says.

“And then we’ll see what’s still there and we’ll be able to more effectively and efficiently be able to devise protocols and support for supporting all of the individuals who do need some extra intervention to move past this event and work through more of that traumatization.”

Grant wants to remind all of us that almost every child has been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, even if their caregivers don’t realize it. She says it’s important to continue to talk to the kids in your life about what has been happening in the world during the past 12 months.