240. Regression

Most of us usually want our children to grow. We realize that if they keep doing it, eventually they won’t technically be our children any more – our sons and daughters, yes, but not our children. There’s different degrees of sadness about that, but there’s often a lot of joy there, too. I love spending time with my daughters, who are women, not girls. I carefully avoid referring to them as “my children.”
It can be annoying when you see your children seeming to return to an earlier stage of development. They’ve done the work of growing, and you’ve done the work of helping them grow. Especially if it’s been hard work, it can be awfully discouraging to perceive the unravelling of that work. I’ve seen and experienced lots of reactions to perceived regression. One is to blame another child who seems to be causing the change: “I wish my son wouldn’t hang around three-year-old Sylvester so much. My son is eight, and is acting as if he’s three.” I don’t know for sure, but I think there may be value in figuring out whether your child thinks Sylvester is getting something your child wants. Or maybe he’s simply fascinated with Sylvester; he may be trying to remember what it was like to be that age.
Some parents go along with the regression. They may even join in, speaking baby talk with the regressing child. I guess some do it to try to counteract the problem; they’re trying to get the child to know how it feels to see someone you love acting strangely. Maybe some parents don’t even realize they’re doing it. They may be regressing, too.
Some parents, on the other hand, fight it with all their might. They correct, admonish, maybe even punish. “You’re eight years old! Stop acting like a baby! Maybe you shouldn’t be allowed to play with Sylvester any more.” I’m pretty sure that’s not an ultimately effective technique. It may look effective, because the behavior may stop, but I think there’s often more involved in regression than just behavior. The child may remember being nurtured in a way that isn’t happening any more, or may see younger children getting attention that looks appealing. Especially if those younger children are siblings.
Usually, I write these articles with a certain degree of expertise. I’ve spent my life with children and with people who work with children. But once in a while, as in this article, I dabble in subjects other people have studied intensely. If you are dealing with what you think is your own child’s regression, perhaps it may help to spend some time looking beyond the behavior that’s bothering you.

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