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Understanding Regression in Child Development: Causes and Strategies for Support

As new parents, your baby’s every move and milestone is nothing short of a celebration! So, it is but natural, to be concerned if you find your baby unlearning certain skills, or “regressing” back a few days or months in action and behaviour. But, rest assured, that this “child regression”, is all but a normal part and parcel of your baby’s natural development. To help ease your worries, we have detailed all the causes, signs, and symptoms, along with ways to cope with this temporary phase of your child’s growth.

What is Regression? 

Just like hitting the brakes is important as you learn to drive, similarly, child regression is equally an important part of a child’s natural growth and development. As your baby learns to explore the surroundings and make advances towards the major age-appropriate milestones, you could sometimes find them stuck or reverting to old practices or behaviours from time to time. This, is, however, a temporary phase and nothing to worry about.

Further ahead, we help you understand the major causes of child regression, so you are well informed and prepared if you encounter any such changes in your child’s natural demeanour.

What Causes Regression in Child Development? 

As a child moves ahead with all enthusiasm and energy to learn and explore, if you find any delay or see your child regressing to a previous milestone, the most possible cause is “stress”. Now, for a child, expressing what is stressing them out, or being able to cope with it, is still not easy. That is when it reflects in their regressive patterns, for that short period.

Something as simple as learning to crawl comes with the excitement of reaching out further, but also, the realisation of moving away from your primary caretaker in space and sight. So the baby may only try to advance further if she is assured of a safe connection irrespective of the spatial distance. Similarly, the fear of falling may prevent toddlers from walking at a stretch and revert to the safer option of crawling for some time.

Any small or big change in the child’s environment or development may act as a possible stressor overwhelming the child and triggering the phase of regression. Major life changes like a new sibling, change of school, house, or caretaker, consistent fights and squabbles in the family, or a sudden change of routine without ample rest, during rigorous travelling, are a few of the major stressors that could act as potential trigger for your child’s regressive behaviour.

Alongside identifying the causes, it helps to be aware of a few signs and symptoms you can look out for.

Signs of Child Regression

  • Sleep disturbances
  • Irregular feeding/ loss of appetite
  • Potty accidents despite toilet training
  • Increased clinginess or anxiousness
  • Baby-talking
  • Temper tantrums
  • Sudden loss of interest in learning
  • Becoming less social

How Common is Age Regression?

While regression is pretty common and a normal occurrence in kids, you should know how often or how long should it last. More often than not, a regressive phase lasts for about a few days to a few weeks at max.

Once you have identified a pattern and the reason/stressor behind this behavioural change, work towards reassuring your child and establish a safe and secure connection with your baby. That would help the baby work their way through their fears and concerns, back to their regular advancements and milestones.

However, if you find something persistent for over a month, irrespective of the presence or absence of the trigger factors, you may want to consult your trusted paediatrician to gain more clarity about the same.

How to Support Your Child Through a Regressive Phase?

Child regression may seem concerning and worrisome for first-time parents. However, staying well-informed and providing the right care, comfort, and guidance can help ease the anxiousness for both, the parent and child. Here are a few steps that can help you and your baby traverse this phase with more ease.

  1. Identify the trigger
  2. It is vital to try and figure out what could be stressing your child out. What you see reflected as regressive behaviour, is the child’s way of coping with some sudden change in its environment. Understanding the trigger can help you reassure your child, help remove or overcome the trigger, and manoeuvre them towards their previously acquired skills and milestones.

  3. Connect and communicate
  4. If you are aware of any major upcoming change, try and be more present for your child. Give them enough attention and make sure to bond with plenty of hugs and cuddles. Sometimes older kids resort to baby-like behaviour to gain your love and attention when they are feeling the most vulnerable. Make sure to assure them that things are okay, that it is normal to feel a bit anxious or scared and that these feelings will soon go away.

  5. Pay attention
  6. You would need to spend quality time with your child and observe him. Pay attention to subtle expressions of their fears or anxieties through the play or art they engage in. It could be their bedtime talks, their paintings, or imaginative plays and acts, you may get a hint of what’s bothering them.

    For younger kids and babies, try to keep their routine and environment intact as far as feasible. When children feel heard and seen, they feel safe to confide and unwind. Providing that scope for emotional and physical bonding is essential to help a child figure their way out of regression.

  7. Avoid shaming
  8. When older kids are baffled by their regressive acts, it helps comfort them when you let them know that everything is alright and this is just a temporary phase. For example, if a 5-year-old suddenly starts bed-wetting, it is important not to mention this in a shameful or teasing way. This would otherwise worsen their internal turmoil even further. Make sure to provide a safe space for your child, where he/she can confide in you. Thereafter, you can together find ways to deal with the changes in a better way.

  9. Set the right expectation
  10. While it is understandable, that the primary need of the child during such a phase, is that of care, connection, and attention, it is also important to not overdo it. Your attention or care should not be reinforcing the comfort of any negative behaviour, like temper tantrums. Learn to modulate your voice and reaction in a firm assuring way, and respond to the situation with a consistent approach.

  11. Encourage new advancements
  12. While paying attention to undesirable behaviour should be avoided, it is also important to encourage and reinforce any good change or development you see in your child. Encourage the same with hugs, cuddles, appreciation, and occasional rewards, to let them identify and differentiate between regressive pitfalls and progressive achievements. Whether they express interest in learning something new, prevent a potty accident, or refrain from talking back, make sure that the child knows that you notice and appreciate the efforts.

All of the above would help your child feel loved and assured, helping him/her get back to their usual development milestones physically, mentally, and emotionally.

Every baby is different and there could be differences in the time and effort they require to reach the various milestones of natural growth and development. Similarly, what stresses a child out could be very unique or small, but never trivial. Providing them with a safe space and assuring them with your presence and caring gestures, can help ease out the discomfort and anxieties associated with child regression. Remember and have trust in the fact that you know your child the best, and you will eventually know what works best for your little bundle of joy.

For more such interesting blogs, Visit EuroKids.

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