Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

Hedda SharapanI Now that we’re getting close to the end of the “school year,” I hope you can take some time to appreciate how much forward progress the children have made in your care.

You invest a lot of your time and energy to guide and support the children. So it’s understandably disheartening at any time, but especially this late in the year, when you see a child regress and lose some of those major accomplishments, like self-control, cooperative behavior, focused attention and even potty training. 

It might help to remember that it’s natural to take a step backwards “in the long, long trip of growing.” Fred even wrote a song about that. In fact, he used to refer to that song as permissible regression, but of course, we didn’t call it that publicly. That song is “Please Don’t Think It’s Funny...when you want an extra kiss." 

Here are some of the lyrics:
In the long, long trip of growing
There are stops along the way.
For thoughts of all the soft things
And a look at yesterday. 

For a chance to fill our feelings
With comfort and with ease,
And then tell the new tomorrow,
"You can come now when you please.”

We forget how much emotional energy children expend in order to stop from hitting, to give up a toy to share with another child, or even to pay attention to potty signals. Sometimes they just need to take a step back and not have to be so strong. That helps them refuel so they'll have enough strength to move forward.

As you listen to the words of Fred’s song on this Neighborhood video clip, think about how important your loving care is to children on that “long, long trip of growing.” 

What are some possible reasons for regression?

We can’t always know the reasons for children’s behavior, but sometimes they regress when they’re upset, don’t feel safe, or when they’re tired or sick. Regression can also happen just before a big growth spurt, almost as a way of gathering strength so they’ll be ready to move on.

Children also might regress because of stress at home, like a new baby, a move, if a parent is traveling, or even when there’s been a loud argument. That’s why it helps when you’ve built a good relationship with the families, so they’ll be open enough to tell you when they’ve had a tough time at home and trust that you won’t be judgmental. Then you can be prepared to give their child some extra help that day.

What are some ways we can help children when they regress?

In his song Fred told us some of the things that children need during those temporary regressions, like an extra kiss or quiet time with a teddy bear. It can also comfort a child to have some time on your lap or a backrub from you at naptime. To help a child who seems to have regressed and is having a difficult day, you might want to stay close so you'll be right there to offer some extra support.

Think, too, of what it might mean to a child who’s concerned about losing mommy’s attention to the new baby to have your understanding that babytalk and thumb-sucking might be just a temporary setback. Think about what it might mean to that child’s family, too, to have that reassurance from you.

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No matter how old or young we are, we all have times when we need extra comfort and want to retreat to earlier, easier moments. I remember being grateful for that permission years ago at the end of a long day at a NAEYC conference. I was physically and emotionally exhausted, but I didn’t want to miss the evening session led by one of my favorite early childhood presenters, Bev Bos. And she gave us a song that was just what I needed: Tonight I'd like you to rock me to sleep….’cause I’m tired of trying to figure things out. And I’m tired of being so strong. Even as adults, it helps to know that it's okay to take a step back and refuel until we're ready to take a step forward.

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