So much has changed for our kids in recent weeks. The normal routines are gone, they can’t see their friends and extended family (or in some cases, even their first responder parents). If you’re noticing your child regressing a bit during this difficult time, don’t worry, mama. It’s totally normal if your preschooler is suddenly wanting to pretend to be a baby or if your school-age child wants way more cuddles and comfort than they did two months ago.
Here’s what you need to know about child regression during the coronavirus pandemic:
Regression is a totally normal response to what’s going on in the world.
Little kids don’t have the vocabulary or experience to tell us that they are stressed and in need of comfort. Instead, they might say “pretend I’m a baby” or ask for lullabies you haven’t sung in years. A potty-trained child might start having accidents and older kids may say “I can’t do it” when asked to perform a task they have previously mastered.
This does not mean you are failing, mama.
“Regression is typical in normal childhood, and it can be caused by stress, by frustration, or by a traumatic event,” doctors Hermioni N. Lokko and Theodore A. Stern note in their research on the subject.
According to psychotherapist Noel McDermott, everyone (even us adults) is likely to regress or not function at our normal level during this pandemic. “Children are going to regress more than adults, and the younger the child, the more the regression is likely to be.” McDermott tells The Huffington Post.
Comfort is key in addressing regression.
Regression can be frustrating for parents, especially during an already stressful time when everyone is locked in the house together. It’s going to be frustrating to see a puddle of pee under your 6-year-old’s feet or to have your preschooler throw tantrums you thought they’d outgrown.
It’s okay to be frustrated, mama, but experts suggest that scolding or punishing a child who is regressing only makes it worse. We need to meet regression with kindness, comfort and open arms, even if our kids are refusing to do something we need them to do, like brush their teeth or wash their hands.
Dr. Laura Markham of AhaParenting tells Today “the best intervention is reassurance.” Markham suggests parents offer a safe space to kids who are having a hard time and try using phrases like “‘You are having such a hard time right now, aren’t you? Don’t worry, Sweetheart. I am right here to help.'”
She continues: “You step in, hold her kindly, make it fun, and get the hand-washing accomplished.”
Recognize that you are your child’s rock, but you are also human.
Parenting during a pandemic and economic recession is incredibly stressful. Alone time for moms was minuscule before and practically a fantasy now. You might be longing for a quiet moment. Our hearts melt the first time our children say “mama,” but if your blood pressure rises when you hear it for the 10,000th time a day that’s okay. It doesn’t mean you’re not a great mom, it just means you’re stressed and so is your child.
“With more anxious children, they may be asking more questions than usual, and seeking reassurance that everything is going to be okay,” Genevieve von Lob, a psychologist and author of “Happy Parent, Happy Child” tells The Huffington Post. “Parents may also find that their children are more unsettled at bedtime and are scared to be left alone.”
But it is important that mama be left alone, sometimes. If you have a partner or another adult in your home this may mean that they take over caregiving to allow you to have an extra long shower or just some alone time in your bedroom. If you don’t have another adult in the home, try to steal a moment for yourself where you can, even if that means the dishes go undone or the kids watch Frozen 2 for the 10th time.
“Try to be aware of your level of stress and anxiety and be kind to yourself,” Dr. Tovah Klein, director of the Barnard College Center for Toddler Development tells Today. “Take 15 minutes in the morning to have coffee by yourself before children wake up.”
Bottom line: Regression is natural, normal and hard.
Our kids express anxiety in ways that can be very difficult for parents. Sleeping and eating problems often develop when kids are stressed, and when you’ve been up all night worrying about how you’re going to put food on your table during this economic turmoil it’s hard to deal with a kid who is suddenly very picky about what you’re serving for breakfast. But for kids, anxiety and stress often manifest as eating and sleeping issues.
It’s rough, but this is the time where we need to come at our kids with kindness and connection. They need us more than ever. It’s okay to sing a lullaby to 10-year-old or rock a 4-year-old to sleep. They need the extra cuddles right now.
We can’t control how out of control the outside world has become, but we can help our children feel safe (even when the world isn’t).
As psychologist and parenting coach Dr. Rebecca Schrag Hershberg previously wrote for Motherly: “Children show their stress in different ways: throwing more tantrums, being more moody, irritable or defiant, or regressing in a particular area such as language or potty training. However your kids are showing that they’re worried—or even if they are not yet—there is nothing more valuable than giving them a hug and letting them know you’ve got them and it’s all going to be okay.”