Regression is the return to an earlier stage of behaviour. It can be confined to a certain skill that was gained and then given up. Such as the potty-trained child who after using the toilet for several weeks suddenly wants to wear a nappy again. This is a normal two steps forward one step backwards pattern of growth.
Other children, however, seem to regularly swing between being capable and 'acting their age', and then 'regressing' to the behaviour of as baby or toddler.
1. Could they be Sleepy, Starving, Sick or Stressed?
Are they sleep-deprived?
- Some kids have to have 10-12, even 14 hours of sleep, or else! Lack of sleep effects self control in many ways. If you are sleep deprived, are you at your best?
Are they starving?
- When blood sugar crashes the brain, the biggest consumer of glucose in the body, goes offline. All the higher functions such as self control are shutdown and whats left is a brain stem running the show. Your child is literally functioning at lizard level!
Are they Sick?
- Sickness. Truly, years 0 -2 seemed to be one long list of illnesses. Sometimes sickness comes on suddenly without warning and as that child descends into illness, their behaviour deteriorates rapidly. Or possibly your child has an undiagnosed allergy that erodes their quality of health.
Could they be stressed?
- Stress. Yes, kids get stressed and have bad days too. Some days are just one frustration after another and, unlike us, kids do not have the mental skills to tell themselves tomorrow things will be better, they just express. If you haven’t been with your child all day and they come home ferrel, try asking them how their day was before you tell them to behave. Sometimes something really bad might have happened at school, you might need to dig a little, but their behaviour is telling you something else.
So you have performed a system check and all seems to be in order, but your 6 year old is lying on the floor saying gaga -go goo, and he's not playing, what else could be the problem?
2. New Baby Envy
A common reason for regressive behavour is the birth of a new baby. The older child sees the baby getting attention for crying or gooing. Suddenly they want to have a bottle or dummy and cry and whimper when they don't get their own way.
This is very common and quite normal. Kids are natural mimics and truth is it was not that long ago they were getting the special treatment.
3. Letting off Steam.
If you child is at daycare, preschool or school all day there is a certain standard of behaviour that is expected. Rules and timetables dominate the day, and as they get older, the time for letting loose gets less and less. Coming home to mummy is seen as a safe space to really let it all hang out. Their way of releasing stress might be to return to an earlier model of behaving where they demands on them were less.
6. Sensory overload.
There seem to be an increasing amount of children with sensory processing issues. Sensory processing difficulties- either visual, auditory or tactile, (sometimes all 3), can overload an immature system very quickly.
Even children without sensory issues can be sensitive to the fast, bright, loud world we live in. Their tolerance to this will be dependent on their internal state.
If they are having a brain upgrade, or suffering one of the 4 S’s (Sleepy, Starving, Sick or Stressed) then their coping skills are further compromised and the outcome might be the child equivalent to a frozen pc. When their CPU is ‘offline’ you are only going to see the frustrating hourglass of baby-like behaviour.
4. The Strategy.
It’s always a fine call to read calculation into the action’s of very young children, but sometimes they simply learn from experience that behaving a certain way gets them what they want. If regressive behaviour only occurs at certain times, like the coy Daddy’s girl twirling her hair to entice a cookie before dinner, then this will become obvious sooner or later. In this case you might either ignore the naughties (not that they are being naughty, rather it’s pretty smart they have developed a strategy) or redirect the want. If Sally is always asking for something in a baby voice, give her the experience of getting what she wants using her ‘big girl’ voice.
5. Brain upgrade.
Development is not linear. Inside the rapidly developing child’s brain changes can occur in leaps and bounds.
You have all been there but may have not realised. Those times when the settled baby suddenly becomes fussy and unsettled for a few days then it all calms down and suddenly you realise they can sit unsupported, or separation awareness has set in.
Their brain has just undergone a surge of genetically programmed development. It’s like updates were installed and they are 'offline' for a while. Regressive behaviour occurs as the new neural software is installed as they literally do take a couple of steps back to an earlier program.
7. Great expectations
Are you asking too much from them? Sometimes we just want our little dependent critters to grow up. This is especially so with the first child, because we don’t really know how children are meant to act. It can be especially confusing if you see your child ‘acting their age’ at some times and then regressing to a 2 year old at others. Perhaps this is their way of saying, “mummy/ daddy, I just can’t do all the things you want me to, so I am going to become a baby again for a while so you can do it for me.”
8. Food freakout.
You pick up Johnny from the birthday party, you dropped off a competent 6 year old fluent in english but the child you pick up gets into the car saying “wa-wa, babababab, hehehe.” Where’s Johnny? I am not getting into the sugar debate here, but evidence is rising to show that kids are affected by junk food. Colourings, flavourings, even the hidden MSG in potato chips can send some kids bananas. The most common food additives are E numbers, sometimes they are glaringly obvious colours such as yellow and red, others are slipped into everyday foods such as cake mixes and and sauces. These are toxins in your childs pure and vulnerable system and they can have a massive effect on brain function and behaviour.
There are many things that can upset neurotransmitter balance. When our neurochemistry is off, its similar to being tired, stressed or hungry, we just can’t control ourselves. Children are especially vulnerable to toxins, nutrient imbalances, metal overloads or amino acid deficiency because their system is immature. This is a whole other area but worth looking into with an integrative doctor if the problem persists.
When all of the possible physical causes are investigated, we need to look into the child’s emotional world. What is going on in there? We will never really know for sure but consider this. Could your child’s baby-like behaviour be expressing an unmet developmental need?Do they just need a little more love and this is the only way they can ask for it?
Are you so distracted and busy that they never really feel they have your full attention, your love, you?
Is their baby behaviour an innocent bid to meet their needs for nurture and attention?
What would happen if you responded to this? Try joining them there and see what happens. Fill them up with them being your little baby again in a playful loving way. Hold them on your lap, swaddle or stroke them and don’t worry they will stay acting like a baby, they can’t.
Children have a natural urge toward growth, if they get what they need at each stage they are naturally propelled forward. But if we try to push them to a stage of development before their time because we need them to ‘be big’ then they miss out on the things that are crucial to the earlier stages of life.