Find Out How To Deal With Your Child When He Or She Regresses From Potty Training, Separation Anxiety And Acting Out

Most parents will experience regression as their growing preschoolers suddenly start exhibiting the toddler behavior they long left behind. The good news is, this too shall pass, especially if you can pinpoint what's really going on and address it.
Dawn Papandrea

I remember when my son turned 3, he began to cry incessantly when I dropped him off at my mother-in-law’s house in the morning to go to work. Before that, I could barely get him to hug me before I left because he was immediately involved in his toys, or grabbing a book to read with his grandmother. He was essentially taking a step back, otherwise known as regression.

“Regression is a coping mechanism we all rely on from time to time but it is more dramatic in preschoolers,” explains Katrinca Ford, MS, a California-based marriage and family therapist. In other words, she says, adults may fall into old patterns of behavior when stressed, but we are unlikely to pee our pants or throw ourselves to the ground if we don't get our own way.

So what’s setting your child off into a pattern of regression? “Many, many things may bring stress to the life of a young child,” says Ford. “Because the world is so new and so large, preschoolers have a hard time predicting how changes will really affect them.”

Here are three major regression starters and how to cope:

Moving to a new home
Fear of the unknown and settling into something new can be scary for your preschooler.

Regression behavior: Bedtime battles have heated up. He simply does not want anything to do with his new room and wants to sleep in yours. “Moving is a huge change for people of any age but for preschoolers, it can be overwhelming,” says Julie Freedman Smith, parenting author and co-founder of Parenting Power ( “Everything as they knew it is gone and the only thing that remains the same is Mom and Dad.”

Tactics to try: Try to keep the bedtime routine the same as it always was (i.e. bath, two stories, get tucked in). Toward that end, says Smith, keep as many things as possible about the child’s room the same so that there is familiarity.

Starting daycare
For the first time, your child feels like she's out in the world on her own.

Regression behavior: There's that separation anxiety again. Remember at around age one when you couldn't use the bathroom without her freaking out? It's baaaack! Now she latches onto you screaming as you try to drop her off and head out.

Tactics to try: Do a preemptive strike. Talk about what will happen/visit the location so that it becomes real instead of an imagined place of horror, says Smith. Then, validate your child’s fears, says Ford. Something like: “Going to a new school is hard. Are you a little worried that I will forget to pick you up? The teachers will take good care of you, and I will be back to pick you up at 12:00.” Another tip: Leave something of yourself behind -- a watch or bracelet you picked out together -- so she can look at it when she starts to miss you and know that you're with her.

A new sibling
No matter how hard you try to give attention to your older child, the excitement of a new baby can make him feel left out.

Regression behavior: Can you say tantrums? Or drawing "pictures" on your kitchen wall in marker. In short, someone is definitely looking for attention.

Tactics to try: Introduce the new baby along with a special present for being the big brother. And be sure to set aside special times for just your older one with both mommy and daddy. Acknowledge jealousy and teach new ways to ask for attention, suggests Smith. Try something like, “Wow, sounds like you really want some time with Mommy. All you need to do is say – ‘Mommy, I need some time.’”

No matter what the cause of your child’s regressive behavior is, try to keep routines as routine as possible, suggests Ford. “Keep meal times and bedtimes predictable and on schedule. Accept that your child will need extra care and attention. Build in time for an extra story, extra cuddling, longer baths with mom or dad by her side, whatever it is that makes your child feel loved and cared

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