Child regressing during the pandemic? Ways to help

Increased stress, whether due to the COVID-19 pandemic or other disruptions such as the birth of a sibling, parent’s job loss or divorce, can set back a child’s progress and cause them temporarily to lose recently acquired skills.

Child regression can take many forms: Potty accidents, thumb-sucking, baby talk, clinginess and sleep issues.

Increased stress, whether due to the COVID-19 pandemic or other disruptions such as the birth of a sibling, parent’s job loss or divorce, can set back a child’s progress and cause them temporarily to lose recently acquired skills.

The changes can take a toll on parents as well. Keep in mind that the cause of the regression is normal during stressful times. Don’t overreact, and take comfort knowing the setback is temporary. There are steps that can help ease your child’s stress and resume their learning progress.

The setbacks can last weeks or months. Punishing the regression can stretch it out by adding to the child’s stress.

“To help your child through this time, maintain a safe and secure relationship. Nurturing your child with routines and encouragement can help them move through the regression and resume their progress sooner,” said Katy Hopkins, Ph.D., a pediatric psychologist with Norton Children’s Medical Group, affiliated with the UofL School of Medicine.

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Pediatricians can help with stress in children and identify conditions that need specialized care.

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Stay in touch with your pediatrician to help rule out other causes of regression.

Ways you can help your child through stressful times:

  • Potty training regression in a 4-year-old is a common sign of stress. Be comforting and supportive. Go back to the potty-training basics. Talk to your child about what may be stressing them and reassure them that the troubles will pass.
  • Children may demand more attention before sleeping. Make it a point to take breaks with your child during the day where your focus is entirely on them. Short breaks of singing and dancing, blowing bubbles or playing with your child can help.
  • Don’t punish your child for regressing, but don’t reinforce it either. Have your child help clean up accidents, put them down if they start baby talk or thumb-sucking. If possible, ignore the setback. Reinforce positive behavior. Celebrate sleeping through the night and successful toilet use.
  • Shield young children from scary news about COVID-19 or other situations. Turn off the television news when they’re around. Also, don’t talk about COVID-19 and the pandemic with other adults or older siblings when the youngsters are within earshot.
  • Set up a family routine that ensures kids have a range of activities during the day: story time, free play, art projects, playing outside, hide-and-seek in the house. Screen use has increased during this time, but try to balance it out with other activities.
  • Video chats with family members help maintain and build relationships with family members and other caregivers.

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