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What is Child Regression?

If you've witnessed your child celebrate a major milestone, such as conquering toilet training, only to then experience setbacks, like suddenly refusing to use the toilet, rest assured that this is a normal part of their growth and development. Regression is quite common among young children, particularly toddlers.

Regression and Its Causes

While it's thrilling to discover new abilities, there can also be a sense of anxiety that accompanies the excitement. Imagine a baby who has just learned to walk: she may feel a sense of accomplishment but also worry about her parents being farther away or the possibility of falling down.

When children encounter obstacles during their development, it can feel overwhelming and potentially lead to setbacks in their progress.


Regression can manifest differently, but typically involves a return to behaviors associated with a younger age or greater dependency. You might observe increased temper tantrums, challenges with sleep or eating patterns, and a tendency to use more immature language. It is not uncommon for children who have previously accomplished certain tasks independently, such as dressing themselves, to experience a temporary setback in those abilities.

Ages of Onset

Regressive behaviors are commonly observed in toddlers and preschoolers, but they can occur at any age, including infants and older children. While regression may not be as apparent in infants, there are still signs to look out for. For instance, an infant experiencing regression might display increased clinginess, a greater need for feeding, or more frequent whining or crying compared to their usual behavior.

Is this Normal?

Take comfort in knowing that regression is a normal part of growth and development. It's actually a helpful process that allows your child to prepare themselves for new responsibilities. Just like how some children experience a temporary setback before making significant progress or immediately after reaching a milestone, regression can be seen as an indicator of progression. It's important to recognize that every child is unique and may exhibit different regressive patterns and triggers. As a parent, you become familiar with your child's individual progression and occasional steps back. Regression commonly occurs when children are faced with new situations and changes in their environment, such as adjusting to being an older sibling or starting pre-school. It's a natural part of their development process that can be managed with patience and understanding.

How to Support Your Child

Comforting your child is crucial, ensuring they feel secure and supported. It's important to acknowledge their regressive behavior without making them feel ashamed. A suitable approach may be to affirm their progress and efforts.

Play is not just a fun activity for children, it can also serve as a valuable tool for processing complex emotions. Imaginative play is a channel through which children enhance their language skills, critical thinking abilities, and understanding of the world around them. It also provides an outlet for them to express and work through challenging feelings that they may not have the vocabulary for. By actively participating in your child's play and closely observing their actions, you can gain insights about their struggles and emotional well-being.

There may be instances when your child requires some regression for a period of time. During this time, it is crucial to offer reassurance while also maintaining expectations and setting boundaries. It is important for toddlers to understand that they are not in control of everything, which can lead to tantrums. It's important to avoid pushing individuals away when they are struggling with their emotions. Instead, we should assist them in finding suitable and adaptive ways to express those challenging feelings. By sitting with them, providing soothing comfort, and acknowledging their emotions, we can help them understand and process what they're going through.

When to Become Concerned

While regressions in children can vary in duration, most typically last for a few weeks. However, it's important to remember that every child is different. If you can identify the potential cause of regression and provide support to your child during this phase, they will likely be able to overcome it successfully. If the regression continues for an extended period beyond two or three weeks, it might be wise to consult your child's healthcare provider. If this motivation seems lacking during a regression period, it could be a cause for concern. Rest assured, though, that developmental regressions are often temporary and short-lived in nature.


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