Why the 18-month regression isn't really a regression at all - Kiindred

Why the 18-month regression isn’t really a regression at all

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If you’ve been following us here at Kiindred for a while you’ll know that we hate the word regression. It’s negative, it’s unnerving and frankly, it’s inaccurate.

The Oxford dictionary defines regression as: “a return to a former or less developed state” and so we know that this is just not true when it comes to our little ones. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.

Kiindred’s resident Mothercraft Nurse, Chris Minogue is not a fan of the word regression as she says it has a really negative connotation which then makes parents feel uneasy and anxious.

“I notice that we start to use these negative terms in regards to our babies and toddlers,” says Chris. “But it’s important to know that they don’t regress, it’s about them becoming more alert and aware of the world around them and about learning and mastering new skills.”

But it does usually mean we have to do more for them at these particular times – especially in relation to their sleep and resettling. 

So what’s wrong with calling it a regression?

When we refer to a regression we are assuming that our child is going backwards and it is putting a negative association on both our baby’s abilities and our parenting. And we all know, we parents don’t need any more help in the guilt department. We’ve got it covered, thanks.

So when we’re getting this idea into our head that our child is going backwards it starts feelings of fear, negativity, anxiety and stress. And we know that little ones feed off our emotions.

Sure there’s an undeniable change going on…

But this change is all in the way of progression. They’re going through a new stage, learning a new skill, their physiology is changing – at 4 months a baby is going through a complete transformation in the way that their brain processes sleep. This is a fundamental change that will help their ability to sleep progress not only now but as they grow and eventually become adults.

Sure it messes with the current status quo – but it’s for a reason. So it’s not going backwards – it’s going forwards.

Or there’s the 8-month phase where a combination of separation anxiety (again, another negative term that is actually an important developmental stage) and changes to nap schedules can throw the current situation into disarray.

So what is going on at 18-months then? 

The “18-month regression” is a tough phase for many parents, trust us we’ve been there. After a period of somewhat calm with their child’s sleep – their toddler hits 18 months and it’s a doozy. Suddenly they’re refusing naps, they’re taking a long time to go down at night and they might start waking up during the night. 

Just when you think you’re sitting pretty, the 18-month stage can be extremely tough with toddlers getting a taste of independence, separation anxiety, dropping down to one nap and just generally wanting to test every limit they possibly can. 

And what is the thing that is most in their control? Sleep. So you bet they’re going to push back.

But again, this is not about regressing. This is not a bad thing (stick with us here…) All these things play into their cognitive development and are vital for their brains to grow and become active thinkers and learners.

Knowing all this doesn’t necessarily make it any easier though, we know. 

So what can we do to deal with our toddlers during this time?

5 tips for dealing with the 18’month “regression”:

1. Let’s flip the idea of regression

First things first let’s stop going into this with a negative mindset. Anything with a negative mindset is going to be difficult, but let’s focus on the positive: “Great, my child is growing and developing exactly how they should” and come up with practical solutions.

2. What are those practical solutions?

Every child is different and so is every family unit so take a step back and have a look at what’s going on. 

What new skills is your child learning at the moment – have they just learnt a new skill that could be making them extra tired which means they need to get to bed earlier? Are they going to bed too early? What are their naps like? Have they dropped to one nap or are they still doing 2? Are they getting enough sleep, too much?

It’s about understanding what is changing, what your child’s needs are and making adjustments accordingly.

Check out the Daily Rhythms page on our APP [link] to see what your child’s routine should look like at this stage. 

3. What are the tools you are using?

Once you’ve addressed the situation and have thought about what might need adjusting, think about how you are going to manage that change. How is your little one settling to sleep or resettling after they wake during the night?

If they are using you as a tool, you need to ask yourself does that work for you? If you are happy to get up and go to them, may down with them or bring them into your bed – then this is 100% ok. You need to do what works for your family.

However, if this isn’t working for you, or you can’t sustain it long term them you need to think about practical solutions for giving your child the tools they need to resettle themselves. You can get through this phase relatively quickly if you remain consistent.

4. Learn to resettle is a learned skill

“Resettling is the key because it works,” says Chris Minogue. “Resettling is a tool – it’s part of life, a learned skill that takes time and practice.” Even if your child was doing it and now they’re not – they may just need some gentle guidance to help remind them.

How you choose to resettle your child or teach them to resettle is a personal choice and you need to figure out what your baby responds to, and what you feel comfortable with. You can get advice from your mother’s groups or online forums, but the only thing that will work is what you stick with consistently.

5. Consistency is key

Whatever approach you choose to take, remember that the key is to remain consistent – because it’s a slippery slope with our little ones. And it’s much easier to make a habit than break one!

We know sleep (or lack of it) is at the centre of pretty much everything as parents of small children. It’s all-consuming and when things aren’t going well it can feel overwhelming and hopeless. But with a positive and practical approach, you can ride out this phase relatively quickly.

Remember that all humans, whether they’re babies, toddlers or adults are all constantly changing and evolving. Learning to be a human in our very complex world isn’t easy – and sometimes all our toddlers really need is our love and understanding that we are there to support them through this difficult phase no matter what. Remember it’s just a phase and it will pass with a positive approach and a little consistency and you and your baby are exactly where you are meant to be.

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