For anyone who has attended any adoption training run by a Local Authority or Adoption Agency you are likely to have heard that children who have suffered trauma may regress.
I admit when I first heard about this I was a little bit intrigued and wondered myself what that could look like and whether I would recognise the signs or miss them and make an already wobbly child even more emotionally wobbly. For any who are unfamiliar with regressive behaviour, regression can be defined as ‘a return to an earlier stage of life or a supposed previous life.’
There have been a few occasions during our time together as a family when I can clearly recall occasions when I would consider either Sproglet or Gremlin’s behaviour as displaying signs of regression. These were not long lasting or permanent backward steps in their development. To be fair, in our experience they have usually been quite short lived and have been times when our child makes an attempt to regulate themselves emotionally, find a way to process something that is worrying them or prove to themselves that we would still love them even if they behaved like a baby.
I’m not about to overshare the many and varied ways that our children have demonstrated that throughout the past few years but I will provide a very current example that we fortunately caught in a good parenting moment which allowed us to handle it supportively rather than kicking ourselves later for missing an opportunity.
We are currently in the grips of a worldwide virus pandemic and at the time of writing this entry, our children have not been at school for 100 days (not really a landmark that we need to throw a celebration party for though!) That’s 100 days of suffering through home learning with mum and dad as your teacher and as a family who have never really been rule breakers that also means 100 days where we have barely left home. We’ve only actually left home about 3 times since the lockdown restrictions were lifted.
With all this in mind and knowing that Sproglet struggles with transitions, we thought it was time to at least introduce him to the outside world that still exists but looks a little different to what he remembers. This is all part of getting him ready for an important school meeting that we have at the end of this week at his new Secondary School that he also needs to attend. We picked a shop that we knew he would normally be happy to visit and had a specific purpose for visiting there as he still had some birthday money he wanted to spend. We took the time to explain what he could expect and how he would need to ensure he maintained distancing during the visit. He seemed to take it all in and was seemingly quite happy to leave the house with his dad.
The visit to the shop passed quite uneventfully. They even managed to get a McDonalds takeaway which is usually a big win and then returned home. We then had a terrible evening of tantrums when we can never really get involved with any conversation or reasoning and time has taught us we need to just ride them out.
Fast forward to Saturday morning and we were still aware that we had a pretty wobbly child on our hands. We allowed him some time and space and the opportunity to talk about what was troubling him. (By this time we had already worked out it could only really have been leaving home and the new shopping environment). He said he was fine and just wanted to spend a bit of time on his own watching TV – all sounds ok up until this point right?
We carry on with our usual Saturday morning chores just popping through the lounge on our way through to other rooms or the garden at home. I was doing some tasks upstairs when I suddenly became aware that I could hear the instantly recognisable music that every parent of a toddler aged child will be more than familiar with. I thought maybe he hit the wrong button on the remote on his way to finding a nature programme on National Geographic or an episode of Fuller House which seems to be the current favourite for both the kids. I then hear the giggles and make an unseen inspection of what is going on in the lounge. I find our 11 year old mini man watching Peppa Pig and laughing at the terrible toddler humour – not by accident but by complete freedom of choice.
He probably watched 4 or 5 episodes of it before choosing to find another activity to fill his time. He then reverted to his den to play with Lego but still wanted to be alone with the occasional help from dad when something got a little bit tricky. He said he was ok and didn’t really want to talk about it then. We didn’t mention that we knew he had watched Peppa Pig as we didn’t want him to feel embarrassed about it.
Later that day, we decided to push him to go out to another local shop that he’s not so keen about (boring food shopping) but it was part of exposing him again to people in face masks, he himself needing to wear one and a shop that was likely to need him to be even more aware of distancing. It was only at this point he mentioned that he wasn’t sure as it felt a bit weird out there at the moment. He was interested in seeing how it was different to the other shop he visited and said he would go with his dad as he was safe.
We haven’t had any more episodes of the blasted pig over the weekend, but that my friends is exactly how regression can present itself. It was a way for him to reconnect with an earlier stage of life where he felt safe, where he didn’t have to worry because the grown ups around him kept him safe and a time where he was not responsible for having to make big decisions about ensuring his own safety.
This small act of regression may have passed for now and he has been much more like his usual self today. BUT…if he really wanted to sit and watch another episode or 6 some time then we would continue to allow it because sometimes it’s good to take a step backwards to appreciate how far you’ve come. It’s also great to take a step backwards before taking a giant step fowards.
If you are a parent and you see your child displaying some behaviour a long way removed from their chronological age, don’t dismiss it and please don’t mock them for their childish behaviour. Rather see it as an opportunity to reconnect with your child, reassure them that we all get scared or worried sometimes, enjoy the extra hugs and save any talking for a time when they are ready. Remember, it’s not a forever backwards step – it may pass in less than an hour, it may be repeated several times over a few days but it will pass until the next time.