Since being stuck at home for over two months now, many parents of young children are reporting that their toddlers seem to be backsliding on developmental milestones they had already achieved.
The stress and anxiety of illness, social distancing, being cooped up in quarantine, trying to work from home with children trying to distance learn from home, serious economic concerns and no known end in sight with tremendous uncertainty about the future is a collective trauma of sorts for us all.
Adults can handle the trauma better than their little ones. When adults are having trouble coping, it can result in stress overeating, poor sleep, anxiety, and depression. But, in your kids the signs may not be so obvious. Pediatricians and developmental experts are now saying one sign to look for is “childhood regression,” or the return to behaviors that developmentally they had already appropriately moved past.
For kids 2 to 7 this could mean returning to any number of things they may have “grown out of,” such as bedwetting or thumb-sucking. The experts say that when something traumatic happens in a child’s life, like a death in the family, or being in a serious accident or experiencing a natural disaster, it is not unusual for them to simply revert back to a behavior that was long gone. Instead of talking about their feelings, the regression is a defense mechanism of trying to return to a more comfortable time before the trauma. This could be happening to kids whose lives have been turned upside down by the COVID-19 crisis.
So what can you do about it?
If you do notice regression in your child, the experts say, don’t panic. Once a child has worked through the trauma they are grappling with, chances are these behaviors will disappear. They say that the worst thing you can do however, is to punish them for the behavior, because that will likely make the trauma and the regression even worse.
Instead, try to get them to open up more about their feelings, and what it is they are afraid of. Give them a feeling of comfort and safety as much as you are able. Children this young need help with expressing how they feel, so ask them to tell you a story about what has been happening or what happened that was difficult. Suggest that they tell the story any way they like. Let them act it out with dolls, puppets of toy soldiers if that is easier for them.
In addition, you must frequently remind them that they are OK, that you are OK and that you’ll stay together and take care of them through all of this. Also, tell them this is not going to go on forever, and soon they will be able to see their friends and grandparents again. Try to keep your kids, especially the very young ones, away from the news as much as possible.
Even if your kids are not showing signs of regression yet, it is a good idea to do all of these kinds of things, as they may prevent any kind of developmental backslides.
How are you and your young children coping with quarantines? Any experiences you would like to share?