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Regression in Pre-Schoolers

Why do pre-schoolers (children three to four years of age) start using baby talk when they had been speaking clearly prior to the regression?

Why do walking pre-schoolers revert to crawling or ask to be carried everywhere?

Why do pre-schoolers who have successfully completed toilet training suddenly start having accidents?

Pre-schoolers may go through phases such as these when they are feeling stressed.   Perhaps a pending relocation to a new community has a pre-schooler waking up wet each morning.  The birth of a new sibling, the divorce or separation of parents, conflict in the home, fear of upcoming change of any sort . . . these and other stressors can cause pre-schoolers to regress.

Parents must first identify the cause of the regression.  In some situations, the stressor may appear obvious (i.e., a relocation to a new community).  Nonetheless, it is always best for parents to ask their pre-schooler questions about how they are feeling.  For example, “You have not woken up wet in a long time.  Is something bothering you?”  If the answer is worries about some unspecified loss, parents may respond with, “Are you worried about our move to New Jersey?”  If the answer is yes, parents can follow up with,”What is it about the move that worries you the most?”  (Note: many pre-schoolers will not be able to identify the cause of their regression without parental involvement.  Thus, when the initial “why” question is asked, a thorough and correct answer from the pre-schooler cannot reasonably be expected.  Parents should have patience and do a little investigative Q&A.) 

Once the cause of the regression is determined, parents should remove the stressor or mitigate its impact on the pre-schooler.   An example of stressor removal may be an agreement that spouses begin to speak calmly to one another and to seek marriage counseling (to remove the stressor of conflict in the home).  An example of stressor mitigation may be desensitizing  the pre-schooler about the stressor.  “Desensitization” is a process by which parents can teach their pre-schooler not to be stressed about a given issue.  For example, desensitization occurs when parents tell their pre-schooler that the new sibling is the pre-schooler’s baby too and allow the pre-schooler to hold and cuddle the baby in order to form a bond with the newborn (rather than feel threatened by the newborn’s presence in the home and in the hearts of the parents). 

By handling regressive behavior as indicated above, parents can address these behaviors promptly, kindly, and effectively, thus preventing an ongoing issue with regression.

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