Regression Could Mean Your Kid Is Stressed About COVID-19

Bedwetting and thumb-sucking are telltale signs.

The pandemic has thrown countless wrenches into family life, but one has been especially bewildering. Parents have been noticing that the longer COVID-19 safety measures carry on, the more their kids are falling back on habits they had when they were younger. One U.K.-based mom posted on Twitter, for example, that her daughter is ignoring devices in favor of old toys.

Another parent, from New Jersey, wondered why her seven year old was thumb-sucking.

Behaviors like these aren’t reason for alarm. Experts say many kids are showing signs of regression right now, and it’s simply a coping mechanism to deal with uncertainty and stress.

Here’s what parents in lockdown should keep in mind:

Regression looks different from child to child

Anyone can experience pandemic anxiety, children included. While seeing them visibly unhappy or distressed is a sign they may need mental health support, regressive behaviors might be harder to spot and address.

Kids who are potty-trained suddenly wetting the bed every night may be regressing, as may be older kids who take up thumb-sucking again or revert to babbling like babies.

Bed-wetting or bladder accidents may point to a child's problems with emotional processing.
sodapix sodapix via Getty Images
Bed-wetting or bladder accidents may point to a child's problems with emotional processing.

TODAY reports that tantrums and clinging to parents could also indicate a child has taken a step backwards developmentally, in order to cope.

Regression is a normal reaction to stress

Your child acting like a baby doesn’t mean you’ve failed as a parent. Today’s Parent noted that even relatively normal life changes can warrant “baby mode,” like getting a new sibling or not sleeping enough.

People of all ages can revert to old and familiar coping mechanisms when faced with a crisis situation, which a pandemic would, of course, fall under.

“Experiencing this seismic shift in our worlds has sent many of us into survival mode. Our psychic energy has been diverted from higher-level brain functions to just trying to cope day to day,” social worker and Psychology Today writer Claire Lerner explained.

A child may consciously or unconsciously regress in order to get more attention from their parents or to gain control over their lives, child psychologist Dr. Tove Klein told New York Times.

Now is not the time to discipline

Regressive behaviors like tantrums may overlap with behaviors that ordinarily warrant a time-out, but resist the urge to tell your little one to stop or “grow up.”

Parenting blogger Dr. Laura Markham suggested being patient with kids who are regressing, as their behavior shows they’re too overwhelmed to handle expectations they may have otherwise have managed in the past, in a post on her website.

Scolding won't be productive for parents dealing with kids regressing because of pandemic anxiety.
fizkes via Getty Images
Scolding won't be productive for parents dealing with kids regressing because of pandemic anxiety.

“They’re showing you, because they don’t have the words to tell you,” she pointed out. “So summon up all your patience and remind yourself that your child needs your support to cope during this challenging time. You can either reduce the demands on the child, or increase the child’s inner resources.”

This can be done through verbal reassurance to your kid that they are loved and also by stepping up to help them get through whatever the current problem is, like reinforcing that you aren’t mad they wet the bed and changing soiled bedsheets with them.

Help them manage hard feelings

Kids might feel the need to open up to parents about their worries. If that happens, Lerner emphasized the importance of acknowledging that how they feel is valid before trying to fix their problem.

“If you skip the step of validation before providing reassurance or going into problem-solving mode, it doesn’t give your child the chance to work through the feelings that are driving his behavior,” Lerner wrote for Psychology Today.

Be kind to yourself, too

You’re only human if you sometimes find that kids acting like babies gets on your nerves, Motherly acknowledges. Providing extra comfort to kids who need coddling can take a toll on already weary parents.

When it all gets too much to bear, the parenting website recommends dividing up duties with another adult in the household (if there is another parent or caregiver to tag-team with) or finding snatches of alone time when possible.

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