In times of crisis kids will often regress, and that time is now

Getty Images/iStockphoto
Getty Images/iStockphoto 

Don't be worried if your children show signs of regression during lockdown  - it's a normal reaction to times of stress, and is often temporary.

Instead, take the time to create a calm and nurturing environment to help them feel less anxious about the change in circumstances.

Clinical psychologist and book contributor Dr Ameika Johnson said the COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on the lives of children and families. 

"It's common for young children to display challenging behaviours when they or their families are under stress," Ms Johnson said.

"They may cry more or have more meltdowns. They may seem anxious, withdrawn or clingy, and may become distressed when separating from you. They may be more irritable or have angry outbursts. 

"They may have difficulties sleeping in their own bed, have more nightmares or start wetting the bed. They may become fussier in their eating."

Like adults, children go into survival mode when stressed or they feel unsafe.

"It's also be more difficult for them to learn and retain new skills, such as toiletting, self-soothing or learning to read and write. These skills are not yet automatic for young children and require a lot of effort and attention to maintain," she said. 

"As they adjust to the changes and start feeling more settled, most children will regain those skills and get back to where they were.

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"It's important to remember, however, that children have a great capacity for resilience. If children live in a safe, consistent and emotionally responsive family environment, then it's likely they will adjust to these changes without any lasting impacts." 

Talk to your children about emotions, try not to pressure them, provide a routine and allow time for play and extra cuddles.

"If your child is more unsettled than usual, then it's probably not a good time to attempt any big changes. Instead, just go back to basics for a while," she said.

"If your child is coping well and there's not too much stress in your household, then now might actually be a good time. For example, toilet training may be easier while you and your child are at home for most of the day, with fewer outings and disruptions. 

"When it really comes down to it, it's more important to consider how you're coping and whether you feel up to the challenge." 

Youthrive psychologist Robert McKenzie said it was important parents protect their children's, and their own, mental health during these tough times. 

"Parents need to try and keep perspective and not buy into others' fearful behaviours. Children are often sensitive to changes in their parents' behaviour and emotions, and will mirror this," he said.

"Parents should, for the most part, stick to normal routines and continue with normal developmental activities, such as toilet training. 

"However, it's important that parents be mindful of their expectations and don't place any undue pressure on their child."

He suggested parents' model calm behaviours and provide reassurance and warmth to ensure children feel safe. Keep children occupied and set up structure and daily routines. Try to spend quality time together, encourage physical activity outside the home and limit exposure to news or distressing content.

Human behaviour expert and confidence coach, Anita van Rooyen agreed.

"Kiddos are so intuitive, right? They sense when things are good, bad and ugly. They also sense panic, fear and distress - all of the things that we're facing right now," Ms van Rooyen said.

So, it's important to introduce a range of strategies to create a happy, structured environment.

Turn off the news, connect with your community (from a safe distance), start a vegetable garden, have regular video catchups with loved ones, maintain a daily routine, practice gratitude and make time for joyful activities.

"We build our lives on structure, so maintaining it now is ever more vital, especially things like bed, meal and wake up times. Create a family timetable of what is going to be done when," she said.

"And remember, even in war times kids need to have fun and kids need to see you having fun too, to let them know that it's ok for them to be laughing and being silly.  

"Simple things like family karaoke, concerts and dress-ups for dinner can bring laughter and fun into the home."