Child Regression Amid The COVID-19 Crisis: When To Worry And When Not To

Catherine Pearson
·2-min read
Regressions may be more common during COVID-19. Here's what parents should know.  (Oksana_Alex via Getty Images)
Regressions may be more common during COVID-19. Here's what parents should know. (Oksana_Alex via Getty Images)

At this point in the coronavirus pandemic, there is plenty of evidence that it’s taken a toll on children’s mental health.

And one common way for children to show they’re struggling is when they regress, which generally means they slip back into old behaviors or seemingly lose skills they once had. For example: the previously solid sleeper who is now waking up whining for water every night. The school-age kiddo who is having toddler-esque tantrums again. Or the tween who’d gotten pretty adept at knocking out schoolwork, but is now unable to sit through a Zoom call.

Mental health experts who work with kids say that, anecdotally at least, all of this on the rise. So if your child is regressing during the pandemic, they’re in good company. Here’s what parents need to know.

Regressing is a defense mechanism—and in a lot of ways, it’s totally expected right now.

“It makes sense that parents are reporting these kinds of regressions right now,” said Kenya Hameed, a clinical neuropsychologist with the New York-based Child Mind Institute. “Regressions occur in response to stressors or big changes. And there’s so much uncertainty right now.”

Kids are generally extremely resilient, she added, but their routines have changed — and keep changing — which can be really challenging to cope with.

Children (and adults!) go through regressive episodes because they’re feeling anxious, unsure, and because they’re looking for a bit of reassurance and comfort. In some ways, these momentary behavioral regressions are a typical part of childhood development: Kids grow and change, they maybe get a bit rattled, and they retreat for a bit.

Other times, like during an ongoing global pandemic, regressions are a clear response to a particular stressor.

One matter to keep in mind: Many parents have spent far more time with their children during the pandemic than before, so Hameed said it’s really typical that children may be clingier or struggling...

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