The pandemic is making some kids who were potty-trained regress back into diapers

potty training during pandemic
Photo via Nenad Stojkovic/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

The coronavirus pandemic ravaging the world is causing a variety of mental health issues in people of every age group. According to experts in the U.K., children, like adults, are heavily impacted by the pandemic. Some have even gone through a regression because of school closures and restrictions. Potty training, in particular, has taken a hit during the pandemic.

A report from the U.K. government’s Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services, and Skills (Ofsted) revealed that a majority of kids “have slipped back in their learning to varying degrees since schools were closed to most children and movement restricted.” 

Kids from the youngest age demographic affected by the shutdowns have reportedly forgotten essential skills such as eating with a knife and fork and comprehending basic numbers and words. Those with limited exposure to their parents and other children during the pandemic have reportedly regressed in potty training and reverted back to using diapers. Additionally, older kids have been found to have deteriorating stamina in reading and writing, lowered physical fitness, and heightened signs of mental distress.

These findings came after Ofsted performed more than 900 visits to schools and childcare providers in September and October, according to the department’s press release.

Dr. Dyan Hes, founder of Gramercy Pediatrics in New York City, told CBS News that while she hasn’t seen evidence of kids losing the knowledge of cutlery use in the U.S., she agrees that the rest of the Ofsted report is accurate. “In every age group, we’ve seen regression,” Hes said. “I’ve had patients who were potty-trained and in daycare and then the potty training just … the parents are working from home … they don’t have time to keep up with the potty training.”

Regression occurs when a child seems to have lost skills they’ve recently acquired and mastered—such as using the toilet—or have taken a few steps back in their learning process. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, regression can be viewed as a signal for a number of things, including an infection or disorder that may require treatment, a recent change in routine or environment, or other sources of stress the child may be experiencing.

Considering that some parents rushed into potty training earlier in the pandemic because of a lack of diapers, a number of families could be dealing with this issue.

Regression is known as a normal part of childhood development and usually doesn’t last for long. According to experts that work closely with children, however, it’s highly likely that the COVID-19 crisis is exacerbating its effects. “Regressions occur in response to stressors or big changes. And there’s so much uncertainty right now,” Kenya Hameed, a clinical neuropsychologist with the Child Mind Institute in New York, told Huffington Post. “It makes sense that parents are reporting these kinds of regressions right now.”

“The level of stress has gone up to an enormously high level in this pandemic, and many children are struggling,” Nancy Close, an assistant professor at the Child Study Center at the Yale School of Medicine, told WebMD. “What I’m seeing and what I’m hearing about is regression in everything from potty training and baby talk to refusals to do schoolwork and other responsibilities; an upsurge in tantrums, aggressive and out-of-control behavior; and an upsurge in anxiety and difficulty around eating, sleeping, and managing one’s impulses.”

There’s no need to worry if your child is struggling with potty training, or another pandemic-induced regression, during the coronavirus outbreak. According to Close, as long as the adults in the family are able to identify when it’s occurring and accept it as natural, there is no cause for stress. It is important to make sure that it doesn’t last for an extended period of time, however, and that the child is not continually unlearning already mastered behaviors. If it lasts for more than a few weeks and you’re starting to get concerned, discuss it with your pediatrician.

If your child is going through behavioral regression, here are some ways you can address it, according to WebMD:

  • As much as possible, have your child follow a routine. To avoid overwhelming all parties involved, make sure not to overdo it.
  • Acknowledge your child’s feelings rather than reprimanding them, so they know it’s alright to feel stressed during this difficult time.
  • Offer lots of comfort and support through snuggles, hugs, and physical touch. Praise your child when they attempt to regain a new milestone or meet a new challenge.
  • Give your child something to control by offering them opportunities to make simple choices, such as what snacks to eat, what clothes to wear, or what activity to do next. 
  • Offer positive reinforcement.
  • Make sure you deal with your own anxiety and stress as a parent so that your child doesn’t absorb your feelings.
  • Patience is essential—remember that progress is just around the corner.

Sources: Gov.UK, CBS News, American Academy of Pediatrics, Huffington Post, WebMD

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