How to support your child with child regression

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By WendellMorency

If your child has made a huge leap (like learning to use the toilet), congratulations! Only to take another step back, refusing to use the bathroom! You are not the only one. Regression is a common problem in children growing up, especially for toddlers. Nancy Close, PhD Assistant Professor at Yale School of Medicine, and Associate Director of Yale Program in Early Childhood Education, spoke to us about regression and how to help your child.

What is regression? What is it?

Close says, “I like to combine regression with the idea progression.” “Most children feel a strong desire to progress in their development (progression). Children have a natural desire to discover, manipulate, and master their world.

But, with excitement at learning new skills comes stress. A baby who learns to walk might be thrilled by her new skill, but she may also realize that her mom or dad may be further away, or that she may fall.

Close explains that when stumbling blocks occur along the progressive development path, it can feel overwhelming and cause regression in children.

What does regressive behavior look like?

While the signs of regression can be varied, they are generally indicative that someone is acting younger or more needy. There may be more temper tantrums or difficulty eating or sleeping, or more mature talking styles. You may notice a decrease in skills such as dressing yourself or getting dressed on her own. Close explains that suddenly, your child can’t do the same things they did before.

When does regression happen?

Regressive behavior is most common in preschoolers and toddlers, but it can happen to any age, even infants. Regression in infants might not be as obvious. Baby may become clingier, cry more frequently, or need to eat more.

Is regression a common occurrence?

Regression is not uncommon, but it’s something to be aware of. Regression is normal and can be a good thing. It’s also a way for your child to prepare themselves to take on more responsibility. Close says that some children may regress just before or right after making a great leap forward. Close says that children are different in the reasons they regress and what regressive behaviors they display. Parents usually get to see your child’s pattern of moving forward and then needing a little to go back. Regression can also occur when children adjust to new situations like being an older sibling or starting pre-school.

What can parents do to support their children during regressions?

Reassure your child. Reassure your child that you are there for them. Without shame, show them you are aware of their regressive behaviors. Close suggests the following: “You’re learning so many big boy things. It is so hard work. Sometimes you feel like you need my help.”

Play can be an effective tool to help you work through difficult emotions. Children use symbolic and imaginative play to expand their vocabulary, think and create new ideas about the world. Close says that it allows them to express their emotions and social problems. You can learn a lot from your child by watching them play and having fun with them.

Sometimes, your child might need to be regressed for some time. It is important to be supportive, but also to have boundaries and set expectations. Toys and toddlers need to learn that they are not the boss of all the world. Close says it can cause a lot of tantrums. Do not force them to go. Encourage them to find age-appropriate and adaptive ways to express their feelings. You could say, “You were so mad that your friend didn’t give you the toy. Then you pushed her.” Maybe next time, you could ask for a change and get your teacher on board.

What should parents do?

Regressions can last up to a few weeks. However, it all depends on the child. Most children will recover if you are able to identify the problem and offer support. Close suggests that you reach out to your child’s healthcare provider if the problem persists for more than two to three weeks. “Children are motivated to develop, so if they don’t have that motivation then I would be concerned. However, most of the time when it comes down to developmentalally appropriate regression, it is very short-lived.