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5/26/20blog post

worried about regression in your kids? child psychologist offers advice

“Molly used to be a great sleeper. Over the past few weeks, as the Coronavirus lockdown has persisted, bedtime has deteriorated. It started with Molly insisting that I stay with her until she falls asleep. Now she insists on sleeping in our bed all night.” –Mother of 4-year-old Molly.

“Adam is now afraid to go outside. He even refused to go out for an Easter Egg Hunt. Ever since the Coronavirus, Adam now follows me around the house, won’t leave my side, and refuses to go outside.” –Father of 5-year-old Adam.

Do these scenarios sound familiar?

Regression is to be expected during significant times of change — and your child’s day-to-day has almost certainly changed since the Coronavirus hit. Typical kinds of regression for kids are setbacks in toileting, decreased independence skills, becoming increasingly clingy, having more tantrums, and having a host of sleep disturbances (e.g, dropped naps, nightmares, sleep pattern changes, demands to co-sleep).

So what are parents to do and how can you respond?

  • Parents first need to process their own feelings before they talk to their children. You should discuss your own worries and fears with friends and family and not with their children. The Child Mind Institute has a good article on How to Avoid Passing Anxiety onto Your Kids.
  • “Kids worry more when they are left in the dark.” Parents should try to identify what their child knows about the Coronavirus. Simply asking about what your child knows about Coronavirus can go a long way in easing their worries and decreasing their stress. For guidance on how to respond to specific questions your child may ask about the coronavirus, check out this blog.
  • Parents should try to validate your child’s experience and acknowledge their feelings.

After you have worked through identifying feelings and knowledge about the situation, work to give children coping skills:

  • Now is a great time to help your child learn developmentally appropriate coping skills.
    • Exercise, drinking water, coloring, watching favorite YouTube videos, or video chatting with a loved one are all examples of activities that children may enjoy and will help them cope with anxiety.
    • Keep this list on the refrigerator or somewhere else highly visible is also very helpful so you have a place to go for ideas when a stressful situation arises.
  • Dealing with a clingy child: If your child is becoming increasingly clingy during the day, try to work in periods of time when your child can be more independent.
    • Encourage independent play and reward independent tasks that allow the child to explore separation from you in safe and small ways.
    • For example, have your child go on a treasure hunt in the home, where they go off and find different items placed throughout the house. This simple and fun game encourages brief separations, increasing independence and confidence, which can combat clingy behavior.
  • Clingy at bedtime: If your child is becoming increasingly clingy at bedtime, just be patient as during times of big change like this, it may become harder to separate for sleep.
    • To provide more support and connection at bedtime, consider expanding the bedtime routine by adding a few books and some cuddle time together.
    • Try to stick to the limits you have already established. You want to avoid setting up a dynamic that will be hard to undo, so work hard to ensure that your child sleeps in their own bed. Letting your child sleep in your bed inadvertently sends the message that he isn’t okay in his own room at night—increasing, not decreasing his fears. Instead, consider letting him know you will check in on him periodically to provide reassurance.
    • For more guidance on dealing with general sleep challenges, check out these posts.

Most of all, and most importantly, be patient, as this will all pass and remember that your children are more resilient then you first believe. With your positive modeling, encouragement, support and acceptance, they will soon return to their higher level of functioning. Just giving them the time and space they need to regain a sense of security in this changing world can go a long way.

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Zachary Woessner, PsyD.

behavioral health, psychology
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updates on COVID-19

Please use our coronavirus information hub for resources and answers to frequently asked questions about Dayton Children's response to COVID-19. You can also call our COVID-19 parent hotline at 1-888-746-KIDS (5437) from 8:00 am – 8:00 pm for additional questions.