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Youth: Tackling Regression during a Pandemic

Updated: Nov 9, 2020

(Part One of a Four Part Series)

By Teresa Goins

These are troubled times. Is your five-year-old sucking her thumb or suddenly speaking baby talk again? Is your eight- or nine-year-old more hyper than usual, unable to concentrate? Does your teenager (who is generally even-tempered) explode in anger over the least little thing? If so, your child, no matter the age, may be showing symptoms of regression, due to stressors brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. According to Jennifer Clopton, seasoned Emmy-award winning medical journalist, experts in child development report that regression in any form is alarming but not impossible to correct, as long as it does not last too long. In this article, we will learn the signs that can alert a parent or grandparent to regression, the types of regression medical experts are currently seeing in young people, and what we can do to lessen the degree of regression during this unusually complicated time. (This article represents Part one of four individual commentaries.)

African American Child Hugging His Father
Photo by August de Richelieu from Pexels

As it relates to child development, regression is the act of retreating or stepping back from a particular aptitude or ability that a child has already mastered in the past. There are three types of regression that, because of the pandemic, are much more pervasive than usual: Developmental and Behavioral Regression, Academic Regression, and Social Skills Regression. According to Nancy Close, PhD and assistant professor at the Child Study Center at the Yale School of Medicine, “The level of stress has gone up to an enormously high level in this pandemic, and many children are struggling.”

Developmental and Behavioral Regression. God created children with an excitement for learning, an innate longing to explore, and a satisfaction that comes when their energy and momentum has accomplished something new. Close states, however, that their part in this learning process is “hard work for them.” It is not uncommon for children to regress (at least a little), even during normal times. When this occurs, our kids are trying to process the stress and frustration they are feeling, due to their determination and effort. It is during this time that parents and mentors must offer them extra support because as Rebecca Schrag Hershberg, PhD and clinical psychologist states, they are communicating to us that “their brain is on overload.”

Hershberg says that because of the current COVID-19 pandemic, our kids’ brains are “working overtime to just adjust to this new reality” and to be able to handle “more than they can in this moment.” Virtual school is just one of the demands. According to our experts, here are seven ways we can address developmental and behavioral regression:

1. Follow a schedule. Don’t get too rigid, but make sure your child can anticipate what is expected of him. Regularity and consistency will make your child feel safe, even in troubled times.

2. Acknowledge their feelings. Assure your child that it is okay to be stressed, as long as he continues to try. When kids know you understand that it is hard, they can better manage.

3. Comfort them. There is much power in hugs and pats on the back. Remember that regression occurs because your child is struggling, so do your best to help him cope.

4. Give them something to control. For example, when your child gets all her schoolwork completed, give her the choice of either going to the park or spending some time in the back yard. Having some control helps to keep a child’s emotions in balance.

5. Be open about their behavior and what can be done to change it. During the pandemic, your child may not be able to articulate to you exactly what is bothering her, but she knows something is wrong. Let her help you devise a plan as to how to fix it.

6. Keep a positive attitude. Being negative about a child’s behavior will only make things worse, while “positive reinforcement can help turn things around.”

7. Access your own stress. Children will absorb and react to the emotions they feel around them; so, above all, keep your own stress in check.

According to our child development experts, it’s hard to determine just how long your child’s regression might last. Most is resolved in a few weeks, but if it takes longer, talk to your pediatrician or doctor. Use patience because “progress is likely just around the corner.” Regression often occurs immediately before a significant breakthrough. Close says, “It’s kind of like [they are] seeking extra comfort as they get ready for taking that next big step.”

Academic Regression will be discussed in next month’s article.


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