Why Your Child May Be Having Behavioral Regression

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Even at its easiest, parenting takes effort. And during certain stages in a child’s development or because of influences that are largely or completely outside your control as a mother or father, sometimes parenting can become incredibly challenging. Working through behavioral problems and teaching better behavior comes with any parenting process. 

However, sometimes behavior issues can escalate to levels that are difficult to correct or navigate without support and sometimes even professional intervention. Does reaching this level of need mean you’ve parented badly or have screwed up as a mom or dad? No. In this article we’ll explore what behavioral regression means, how to navigate behavioral challenges with your child, and how to know when to seek outside help.

What is Behavioral Regression?

“Behavioral regression” refers to backsliding – demonstrating behaviors that indicate a dip back into previous development stages. This can happen across a variety of spectrums. This might look like having difficulty performing a skill or behavior – like being potty trained, accomplishing tasks, or maintaining behavior expectations in any number of ways including controlling outbursts or completing homework – the child had previously demonstrated successfully. This can happen even with skills or behaviors that the child had previously performed well for long periods of time.

Many types of behavioral regression are normal. Slight setbacks, needs for reestablishment of behavior norms or expectations, or having to brush up on skills will be a part of any child’s growth and development.

However, regression of any kind should be noted and responded to compassionately. And some forms of more acute behavioral regression can require more intentional investigation as well as potentially seeking professional help to address their underlying causes.

Forms that Acute Behavioral Regression Can Take

A few types of behaviors can indicate more serious instances of behavioral regression and should be treated with care. They can often be a symptom of a deeper root. These require understanding and effective intervention to help your child rebalance and quiet any serious emotional or psychological turmoil.

Displaying aggression or violence, especially when your child has not acted in that way in the past, can be an important signal that something else is going on that should be tended to. This could look like hitting or kicking, lashing out physically at other children or adults, or causing physical pain to themselves or to others.

Showing signs of strong or sustained anxiety or depression can be another important warning signal that your child needs intentional support and help. This might look like deep apathy, disinterest in positive activities or behaviors they would have historically enjoyed or taken part in, expressing fear or disinterest in going outside or allowing family members to leave the house, or being suddenly afraid to take part in normal activities such as going to school or spending time with friends.

Any other distinct changes in your child’s behavior or relationship with you can be a reason to take note when they are sudden, strong, or sustained. Compulsive lying or rebellious behavior can be a normal part of a child’s development, but when it seems to come out of the blue, is severe, or lasts for a sustained period of weeks or months, this could be a case of behavioral regression that should be treated with intentionality.

Things That Can Cause More Serious Forms of Behavioral Regression

When an instance of behavioral regression falls into one of the more serious categories above, it could have been brought on by one of these causes:

Isolation can be a principal cause for behavioral regression. Isolation (especially in sustained cases) can cause significant mental health difficulties and cause stress for anyone, but especially children. The dramatic increase in technology use that many children have experienced in recent years has caused many children and adolescents to spend significant amounts of time alone, and the COVID-19 pandemic increased this phenomenon even further for most children around the world. This can cause psychological difficulties that sometimes manifest as behavioral regression and needs to be treated with compassion and care.

Instances of trauma can also cause behavioral regression. Trauma can have very serious and life-altering effects on children. Instances of physical, emotional, or sexual abuse – whether experienced once or repeatedly – can significantly impact a child’s behavior, mental health, and development. Trauma can sometimes only be detected and treated effectively through professional interventions like receiving psychological or therapeutic counseling.

Finally, behavioral regression could be brought on by clinical depression or another mental health ailment. Though every child will experience emotional bouts of sadness or anxiety, a percentage of children and adolescents suffer from clinically diagnosable mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and more. These ailments usually require professional intervention and can sometimes be aided with medication.

Tools and Action Steps

If your child is displaying behavioral regression or presenting behavioral challenges, here are tips for navigating this period and making sure your child has the support they need to overcome whatever might be causing it.

First, have patience with your child. It’s easy to assume behavioral regression is simply caused by rebellion or lack of discipline. However, this response can sometimes cause the real problem to worsen and make it more difficult to root out later. If he or she begins to display wayward behavior, recognize that behavior problems often reveal the existence of stress that your child doesn’t yet have the tools to deal with effectively.

Next, build trust and communication with him or her. Take a compassionate and empathetic approach to building connections with your child so that he or she is more free or willing to share more about what could be going on. This is especially important with older children and teenagers.

Helping your child build or re-engage in healthy habits can be another vital area of intervention in order to help your child overcome whatever has caused his or her behavioral regression. Making sure he or she is taking part in healthy activities such as time outside, physical recreation and movement, and positive social interactions and relationships can go a long way in helping him or her regulate and navigate any stress that may have caused the regression he or she is demonstrating.

Finally, it can sometimes be important to seek help from professionals in order to provide your child with the care he or she needs to effectively battle whatever stress or difficulties have caused the behavioral regression in the first place. Needing professional support does not mean you haven’t parented well or are not a good Mom. Rather, recognizing that significant stressors exist in your child’s world that you aren’t always equipped to handle, and being willing to provide your child with the support he or she needs, is one of the best things you can do as a parent.

About Author

LaDonna Dennis

LaDonna Dennis is the founder and creator of Mom Blog Society. She wears many hats. She is a Homemaker*Blogger*Crafter*Reader*Pinner*Friend*Animal Lover* Former writer of Frost Illustrated and, Cancer...SURVIVOR! LaDonna is happily married to the love of her life, the mother of 3 grown children and "Grams" to 3 grandchildren. She adores animals and has four furbabies: Makia ( a German Shepherd, whose mission in life is to be her attached to her hip) and Hachie, (an OCD Alaskan Malamute, and Akia (An Alaskan Malamute) who is just sweet as can be. And Sassy, a four-month-old German Shepherd who has quickly stolen her heart and become the most precious fur baby of all times. Aside from the humans in her life, LaDonna's fur babies are her world.

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9 months ago

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Halena Bob
9 months ago

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rosie
9 months ago

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Last edited 9 months ago by rosie