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How to Cope with Back-to-School Regression

by Dr. Heather Wittenberg | July 29, 2013 | Early Education & Literacy

back to school regressionIt was pickup time shortly after the start of a new preschool year. My son had a great day, but suddenly was sucking his thumb, wailing and pulling at me— in full meltdown mode. He hadn’t acted like that since he was much younger. What happened to my Big Boy?

What Happened to My Happy Preschooler? The Back-to-School Behavior Blues

Ms. Katie, my son’s teacher, reassured me that a little behavioral backtracking was normal at the start of a new school year. Children follow new rules all day, behaving at their best. But when it’s time to go home, they “let it all out” with those they love most – their parents. Extra protests, complaints and behavior you thought they’d long outgrown can make a surprise appearance.

Here’s why: Preschoolers are creatures of habit. They soak up a new experience, often to the exclusion of anything else. Their little brains haven’t yet mastered the difficult job of switching tasks. So switching from “summer mode” into “school mode” and back into “home mode” can be a little rocky until new habits are formed. That’s why little ones fall back on old, comfortable behaviors from the past. But don’t worry – your Big Kid will return soon.

How to Cope

Regression usually improves within a few weeks. Until then, try these tips for coping:

  • Be sympathetic – Tell your child that you understand it can be tough to be a Big Boy or Big Girl all week long at preschool. It was so much easier when they were little and didn’t have to worry about school, rules and Big Kid stuff! But soon, it will feel great to be a Big Kid again.
  • Keep it simple – Have easy after-school and weekend schedules to allow for extra rest and relaxation time.
  • Follow the rules – within reason – Hold to your usual behavior expectations at home, but give a couple of extra “chances” until your child adjusts to the new routine.
  • Establish the New Normal – Make sure there is a solid new routine at home to provide structure and reassurance, and especially make sure your child is getting enough sleep. Try these 6 Steps for Adjusting to a Back to School Bedtime.

If your little one’s regression lasts longer than a few weeks, talk with her teacher and her pediatrician to get to the bottom of what’s upsetting her.

Read more Back-To-School suggestions here!

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