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5 Times You Don't Need to Worry About Childhood Regression

Photograph by Twenty20

When my oldest son was almost a year old, he took his first steps. For a few days, all he wanted to do was try to walk. Then, one morning he fell hard while trying to navigate the transition between the carpeted living room and the tiled kitchen. He went back to crawling and, as a new mom, I panicked a little bit. I needn’t have worried. After a week of crawling, he once again pulled himself up and started walking again. This time, he never stopped.

With all of my children’s milestones—from walking to sleeping through the night to learning to talk—I've noticed times when they regress as if they've never met the milestone in the first place The solid food they loved is suddenly pushed aside for their familiar bottle, or the baby who finally learned to love bath time once again balks at the sound of the faucet.

As they grew older, I noticed this regression with other new milestones as well. My toddler son was excited about riding the big-kid swing for a few weeks, but one day he simply refused to get on it and demanded to be put in the baby swing again. His younger brother was proud of his ability to get dressed by himself, until one morning when he told me he needed help and wouldn’t even attempt to put on a t-shirt.

With every new stage they master, there seems to be a brief time when they take a hesitant step back into the familiar. It's taken some time to let go of my fear that these momentary regressions are more serious. And, of course, my worry fades the minute they move forward again into the new stage, which usually doesn't take more than a few days or weeks. I have to remind myself that regression in childhood is completely normal.

It's taken some time to let go of my fear that these momentary regressions are more serious.

Regression can be caused by all sorts of things and there are times when you might need to consult a pediatrician or therapist to help resolve regressive behavior that's getting worse or isn’t improving. But, in most cases, regressive behavior will resolve with time and patience in most of the following situations.

1. A big milestone

We all know that new things can be scary and it’s normal to want to stay in our comfort zone. Little ones can regress even when that milestone is something they’ve been trying so hard to achieve. Growing up is hard!

2. Any big change in the home, like a move or a new baby

Consistency is an important safety net for children’s growth and development. When something in their world changes, whether it’s a move, a new baby, a divorce, or death, it can upset their sense of belonging and cause regression.

3. Stress or frustration

As an adult, when something isn’t going the way you want, it’s often easier to take a step back and re-evaluate. Kids do this through regression, returning to the level they’ve already mastered. They’ll move forward once they’ve processed their emotions.

4. A new childcare situation

Do you have a new babysitter? Did your toddler just start a new preschool program? Any change in caregivers can cause a temporary regression as children adjust to the new routine, new faces and new expectations.

5. Illness

If a little one gets sick, you can almost certainly expect some regressive behavior, depending on the severity and duration of the illness. But if someone close to the child is sick, that could also trigger regressive behavior because of the change in household routine or care.

Basically, I’ve discovered that any new situation can cause temporary regressive behavior in one or both of my kids. By going with the flow, providing as much consistency and positive reinforcement as possible, and not putting too much pressure on them or myself to “fix” it, their regression resolves on its own in a little while. Then they are off to new adventures and the next big milestone.

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