Pre-Spurt Regressions in Preschoolers?

Amy Corbett Storch
Toddlers & Preschoolers

Oh dear God, but I have a question.

Have you ever heard the theory that sometimes, right before a growth spurt (either physical or developmental), you might see a bit of ... regression in your child's behavior? Or perhaps just a general unspecified sort of orneriness? I guess it's the child-development equivalent to "it's always darkest before dawn."

I remember hearing about it when Noah was just a wee little baby. If he'd suddenly stop sleeping or decide to randomly scream for a couple extra hours one day, my kind Internet commenter-people would rush in to assure me that he was simply due for a growth spurt, or perhaps he'd roll over or start crawling soon.

Sure enough, they were usually right. And right again during toddlerhood -- an increase in tantrums was usually followed by a nice breakthrough in speech, or a shopping trip to upgrade from size 2T to 3T.

So I have to ask. Does this apply to 5-year-olds too? Because LAWD HAVE MERCY, has my kid suddenly become a giant pain in the butt.

After our big victory in the food department, we noticed a TON of positive changes. He no longer craved all that sensory input in his mouth -- his habit of chewing and gumming on his hands and toys has all but vanished. He seemed generally to be more regulated and in control of his body, which always, ALWAYS means fewer hysterics and fits in our house. If he cannot sit still, you can also bet that he cannot control the volume of his voice or the force of his emotions. It made sense that a nice, healthy, and BALANCED diet would help with his self-regulation, for awhile it did.

It also made sense to me that going from the all-crunchy-carb diet to one rich in lean proteins and vegetables for the first time since babyhood would also trigger a physical growth spurt. Haven't seen that yet, but we have seen a complete give-back of everything in the self-regulation department.

He tantrums over everything. Any request is met with screams of defiance and NOOOOOO -- even if it's something he wants to do, because I don't think he's even bothering to process what anyone is saying before reacting in a big huge negative way. Fabrics and clothing tags are suddenly a huge issue again. He's proactively announcing his intention to boycott Halloween and costumes and dress-up. His language is jumbled and disorganized most of the time. He clings to me constantly, rejecting everybody else, yet still treating me just as crappy as he's been treating his dad, his previously-beloved-more-than-anyone babysitter and (apparently) his teachers at school.

I know I have the tendency to look TOO HARD at his behavior sometimes. To immediately grab a book about SPD or developmental delays in search of a specialized complicated solution to FIXIT FIXIT instead of recognizing that OH HI, THIS IS ACTUALLY COMPLETELY TYPICAL AND "NORMAL," WHATEVER THAT MEANS. Visual schedules! Tweak the sensory diet! Tweak the actual diet! Listening therapy! Regress right along with him and bring back the body brushing that he hasn't needed or responded to in ages!

So I don't want to do that this time, if I don't need to. So tell me, please: Have you ever seen your child simply regress for no apparent reason at all? (For the record, for those of you who also read my blog -- this behavior started even before I knew I was pregnant, and Noah doesn't know that I'm pregnant ... unless he just senses it, like my cat, who probably won't leave me and my feet alone until JUNE now. I also don't think Noah's really tuned in to what's going on with my dad, though I suppose that's possible too.)

Did you later realize you missed the reason, or did things simply course-correct on their own?


Photo by Amy Storch

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