Updated: Nov 10, 2021
It is not uncommon for children to learn new things such as toilet training, only to have an increased amount of accidents. While children learn new things, along comes some stress. In this blog, we discuss some of the causes of regression and how you can support your child.
What causes a child to regress?
Psychologists believe that while children display a natural ability towards learning about their world, they may also face stress as they progress. A common example is when a baby first learns how to walk. While this is a new, exciting feat for a baby, they may also notice Mummy and daddy moving further away from them or that they may fall more easily, sometimes they plonk to the ground and insist on being carried. These stresses can cause some kind of regression in children.
Common signs of regression
You may notice your child behave in a "baby" manner or become increasingly clingy. You may notice tantrums, disrupted meal and bedtime routines, or speaking with a baby voice. They may display all behaviours like asking for a pacifier or having to sleep with a toy they used to when they were younger. These behaviours may also be more noticeable to you when your child has recently learned a new skill. You may find that they no longer want "to do it by themselves."
These behaviours are seen in toddlers and pre-school-aged children, however, experts say they can happen at any age. It may be more noticeable to you with an older child. These types of behaviours are common and in a way expected. Surprisingly, this is also useful for your child's future development, you may liken it to your child's way of preparing themselves emotionally and mentally for taking on more responsibility. Adjusting to a new school or becoming an older sibling are stressful events for children, and this is where it is not uncommon to see some display of regression in your child.
What can you do to support your child through a phase of regression?
The best thing you can do as a parent is to give your children reassurance by letting them know that they are safe, loved, and fully supported. You may say things like "Wow, you are learning to do so many things on your own!" and "I know that sometimes you might feel like you need help, ask away!".
Do not shame your child when noticing regressive behaviours. This counts towards emotional abuse. While it is frustrating for you as a parent, keep in mind that your child's brain is still developing and they are forming connections in their mind. Shaming them will hinder progress and lead to adversely affect their emotional well-being.
Play is an immensely useful tool for working through these difficult feelings in children. "Play gives children a voice to develop their inner world and express things they don't have the words for. As a parent, you can help label these difficult emotions and reflect on how they might be feeling - these are age-appropriate ways to deal with tantrums.
When should you be concerned?
Developmentally appropriate regression is generally short lived and they don't last more than a couple of weeks -this varies from child to child. If you can isolate and provide support to your child, they will be able to work through these regressions.
It is when the regression doesn't seem to be improving, lasting more then 2-3 weeks or is happening in many areas, it is best to talk to your paediatrician.