When Regression Happens: What it means and how to handle it

Regression, as we know, is a very real part of parenting and often a huge source of frustration especially when it seemed that your child was really moving forward with a particular skill or set of skills.I often see this during the process of learning to swim, particularly in children under the age of 4. One day your little student is actually starting to swim or has just mastered putting his head all the way under to pick up a toy or has jumped into the pool by herself or any number of milestones and then not two lessons later, suddenly doesn’t want to swim at all or resists the very thing they just learned to do or seems agitated and cries when you try to coax them off the steps.As we know, there are so many reasons why a child suddenly changes course. Sometimes they’ve spooked themselves a bit, doing something new and autonomous, realizing their newfound skills as something that sets them further from their perceived comfort zone. Sometimes it’s a combined reaction to a whole set of new things; potty training, preschool separation, a new sibling, a new nanny...All of these can affect a variety your child’s environment and if they are adamant enough about resisting the change, their will is almost always stronger than ours.Here are some helpful tips to get through this period - while it doesn’t last, it can become even more intense if it’s not handled correctly.

  1. 1) Don’t push harder. This only strengthens your child’s resolve to resist further. Instead, relax the structure for a bit. Increase free play, game time, avoid the more direct skills that elevate the child’s anxiety. Do what you know is ‘safe’ to them even if it seems ridiculously rudimentary. Even shortening the lesson by 10 minutes can have a profound effect on reducing anxiety.

  2. 2) Try to pinpoint where the resistance is coming from. Is it directly related to new skills, maybe too much too soon? Or is it external, from other sources such as potty training or preschool? If it’s directly related to swim skills, then having a few conversations before you get in the pool to determine exactly what you’ll be doing that day and what games you get to play should help. Additionally, stickers or some small reward at the end of the lesson can really help bolster confidence and a sense of fun.

  3. 3) If it’s extenuating circumstances, it can be trickier to navigate because these can last longer. You want the swim experience to be enjoyable above all else in the early childhood years and if there is too much going on, it’s not unreasonable to take a short break from lessons to focus on other things. This is especially true if lessons have been taking place most of the summer already.

  1. 4) Focus more on recreational swim activities - more parent time in the pool or time spent playing with friends can help reinvigorate an ambivalent child, particularly if they are around children who are more advanced. Seeing other children who swim well can be a better incentive than anything a parent or teacher could provide.

  2. 5) Toys! Swim or pool toys can often be just what works. A new fun game, floating raft or even a new pair of goggles can shift a child’s disinterest back into interest.

Do recognize that many children experience a ‘one step forward, two steps back’ pattern to many things, swimming included. They all get past it and if you can, try not to worry too much or push too hard because as it turns out, the less you worry, the sooner it dissipates.And the good news is, it is usually followed by a big burst of enthusiasm and progress.