“I thought we were over this,” I whispered to myself after disciplining my son. He unexplainably started biting, hitting, and becoming aggressive, an impulse I thought was gone for good. My other son, who I believed to be successfully potty trained, came over to me with soaking wet pants. Feelings of frustration, helplessness and exhaustion filled me. “I can’t do this anymore,” I thought.
What is regressive behavior? Kids learn skills that build upon one another, reaching one developmental milestone and then the next. However, when routines are disrupted and situations are stressful, they take steps backward in their learning process. They suddenly struggle with language skills, potty training, dealing with anger, or sleeping through the night.
Regression is often, but not always, triggered by stress. Parenting through a pandemic = stress. We are experiencing unprecedented levels of stress and friction for families, which unconsciously rubs off onto our kids. They may not fully understand what has been going on throughout this past year, but they can feel a shift in their environment at school and home. Regression can be one response to high levels of stress.
I know I am one of many moms ready to pull their hair out strand by strand, but I want to remind myself and other parents that you are not alone in these struggles of regressive behavior. It’s not talked about often enough, but I assure you every family is dealing with this to some degree right now. Parents and kids are understandably frustrated.
Here’s the truth though…Regression doesn’t make you or your child a failure; it simply makes you human! I think sometimes we picture our kids reaching every developmental milestone in this linear fashion, but that’s not the reality of what typically happens. It’s more like a zig zag pattern full of ups and downs.
Admittedly, I have very high expectations for myself which translates into high expectations for my kids as well. I want my kids to be their best selves (like every parent), but perhaps they could use a little more understanding as they fall short along the way.
As I’ve reflected more on regression, I’ve realized how important and powerful our reaction is in those frustrating moments.
The following quote moves me in a profound way:
“The children who need love the most will always ask for it in the most unloving ways”― Russel Barkley
This prompted me to think about how God want us as parents to respond to regressive behavior…
with love and grace.
To show them the same love, grace, and kindness that God shows us every day when we experience our own setbacks.
God doesn’t turn away from us when we screw up; He shows us unconditional love and compassion.
Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong (2 Corinthians 12:8-10).
It’s okay to feel frustrated and disappointed, but when we take those feelings and heavy burdens to God, He will raise us up and equip us to respond in a positive, loving way. It’s certainly not easy, especially on our strength alone. When we tap into God’s strength and power through His Holy Spirit, the seemingly impossible becomes possible.
God can use regression as a golden teaching opportunity both for our kids and us! This certainly won’t be the last setback our child will experience. If we teach them how to get back up again, persevere through setbacks, and trust God with the rest, they will become more resilient.
When we react in a harsh way, we aren’t doing them (or ourselves) any favors. In fact, I think it makes regression far worse. I’ve learned this from my own parenting mistakes; I can now see the vastly different outcomes according to how I react and respond.
When we make the conscious choice to pause (super important) and respond with God’s love, compassion and encouragement, you will start to see a shift in their behavior. I’ve seen this firsthand in my own children.
Our kids are looking to us for support through every setback and shortcoming. Let’s intentionally choose to tap into God’s power so we can teach them lessons on how to rise up and move forward.