How parents can help children who seem to be regressing during the pandemic
TORONTO -- The COVID-19 pandemic is bringing fear and anxiety into the lives of many Canadians, including those who may be too young to understand it.
Caron Irwin, a Toronto-based child development and parenting specialist, told CTV's Your Morning that she is working with "lots of families" in which children seem to have recently started reverting to old habits.
"They might be going back to old behaviours, behaviours that seem younger than they are, because that provides them with the sense of comfort that they might be craving during this uncertain time," she said Monday.
"This is completely normal right now, considering that we are all going through a pandemic and that is causing a lot of change or uncertainty in our child's day."
Common regressions can include everything from setbacks in toilet training to difficulty sleeping through the night. Irwin said most regressions fit into four main categories: increased clinginess, separation anxiety, tantrums and reverting to old self-soothing techniques.
Each of those regressions can require different solutions, Irwin said.
For children who are exhibiting more clingy behaviours, such as wanting to be carried or sit on a parent's lap, Irwin recommended providing that comfort when possible, and holding hands or looking for alternative forms of closeness at other times.
"Of course we need to provide them with those opportunities to be close to you and feel that security that they're craving, but we also need to set limits," she said.
When separation anxiety is the issue, Irwin suggested that parents create a goodbye ritual – "maybe it's a tight squeeze and two kisses, or a handshake" – to help the child feel control over the situation and remind them that the parent will return.
"Whether it's to go to the grocery store or just pop down to the basement, always do the same thing," she said.
Reverting to thumb-sucking and other self-soothing techniques from younger ages should not be a surprise during the pandemic and should not be outright discouraged, Irwin said, although parents may want to set limits on how often they are allowed and provide more age-appropriate alternatives, such as fidget toys.
Tantrums are also understandable in the current circumstances, Irwin said. She suggested that parents of children who are regularly throwing fits come up with activities that can help their children "blow off steam" and give them the opportunity to express their emotions, perhaps by going around the kitchen table at dinnertime and asking each family member how they are feeling.
"When we do these two strategies, it helps our kids release what might be pent up inside of them," she said.