“Our 7-year-old wants to sit on my lap all the time and asks for lots of extra snuggles.
Our 10-year-old started to do baby talk and ask me to get her a drink of water when she’s totally capable of doing so herself.
Our 19-year-old is struggling to focus on work and plays video games a LOT more frequently right now.
Our 21-year-old is weepy.
Our 12-year-old is avoiding school assignments in favor of laying around reading.
Our 17-year-old is incredibly irritated with… everything. (‘Why does she have to talk so loud?’
Our 2-year-old went from no pee-pee accidents to three in a day.
I just want to take naps.
He just wants to eat chocolate.
During times of upheaval and stress, young children (and older children and even adults) often go through a type of regression. It could be a number of things. Wanting to sleep with their parents, whining more, needing more cuddles, bedwetting, potty accidents, etc.
It can be challenging for the adults in a child’s life to have to suddenly deal with behaviors the child had stopped doing or had even never done or when they suddenly don’t do something they have been doing for a while and want it done for them.
When we remember these things happen because their brains are sorting things out including their place in the world and can be triggered by insecurity, development, trauma, stress, anxiety, and change, it can help us control our own behavior to better support them. Understanding this is seeking connection, security, and isn’t intentional on their part and it may be because they are having a hard time navigating their own response and need to feel connected to manage goes a long way in moving from reacting to responding.
It’s not just times like a pandemic that has shut down the world. There are major life events, of course, like a new baby joining the family, divorce, moving, and such. Triggers can be everyday things too: nap time being thrown off, getting sick, conflict with friends at school, feeling overwhelmed by homework, summer break, etc.
But there’s more than that too. Often children ‘regress’ or whine and want someone to do something for them that they are totally capable of doing simply because this makes them feel seen, valued, and loved. This may be their love language (acts of service or physical touch) but it may just be their own experimenting to see if those they trust are responsive to them even in ways they don’t need anymore.
Not that they think about it like that, of course.
In a way, it is a type of ‘bid’ for love and connection.
I get it.
I am totally capable of making my own tea or coffee. I’ve done it for myself and others many times for many years. There’s no doubt I know how I like it and where everything is and certainly I’m physically able to do it. It doesn’t take long and I can manage quite well.
Yet nearly every morning, my husband makes and brings me a cuppa.
As he hands me that steaming cup of brew, we have a moment where I look at him thinking of me and thank him for caring for me so. I feel so seen. So loved. So valued. It means a lot.
So the 7-year-old who suddenly ‘can’t’ put their own shoes on? The 10-year-old who asks you to get them a drink? The 4-year-old who whines that they can’t put their own jacket on (but they totally can)?
They may just be craving more of your eyes and thoughts on them. Seeking to feel more seen, valued, and loved in that moment. Needing confirmation that even as they grow more independent, they can still rely on you to care about and for them. That they matter.
Do it when you can. You don’t have to do it, of course, and it’s okay if you can’t. The truth is, sometimes we’re not able to. It is how we respond that is important here. Responding instead of reacting.
Responding: Affirming their desire for your attention.
Reacting: Belittling their desire for your attention.
Responding will calm the situation and build confidence. Showing respect and love in the moment, even if you can’t do what it is they are asking for, will foster security and clarify boundaries in a kind way. Being patient with them in the moment and seeking ways to fill the need being communicated in their behavior strengthens trust and relationship.
Reacting will only further stress the situation. Getting angry at them punishes them for seeking that connection. Being visibly irritated creates barriers and distance. Pointing out they are a big kid and shouldn’t need your help this way shames them and may make them question themselves before going to you for help in the future.
Responding with gentleness, love, kindness, and respect connects. Reacting disconnects.
You can kindly and gently tell them you can’t do that thing while assuring them they are loved and matter. You can encourage them to find other ways to connect more deeply with you.
‘I hear you, you want my help putting your jacket on. I love you and I love to help you. Right now, I can’t help you but when you have your jacket on, why don’t you let me check that it is on well and then we can have a little extra time for a hug before we go outside. Do you want a squeezy hug or a cuddle hug?’
It can be hard for our children to move into the next stage of not needing us as it may feel like they don’t get as much of us there. Replace their ‘needing’ of help and support with ‘needing’ for connection just for connection.
And then be sure to sometimes just give them a drink of water because you were thinking of them and saw them and didn’t want them to be thirsty.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Jessica and Jeremy Martin-Weber of We’re All Human Here. Follow We’re All Human Here on Instagram here. The article originally appeared here. Submit your story here, and be sure to subscribe to our best love stories here.
Read more stories from Jessica and Jeremy here:
‘She came to us asking why she felt so much anger. Jeremy gave her a hammer. The slightest thing sets her off, boiling just under the surface.’: Daughter ‘relieved to know she wasn’t alone’ after parents help her to ‘release anger safely’
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