When children regress—that is, when they act younger and less mature than they really are—their behavior can trigger annoyance in parents. Usually, regression happens when children (and parents) are feeling stressed, as when a new sibling has arrived to join the family. To the older sibling, it seems that the adults give lots of attention, love, and appreciation to the new baby—and all the baby has to do is lie there.

Regression usually signals a deep need in children to go back to being more dependent for a while, and it won’t dissolve through punishment or disapproval. Usually, children who are in a period of regression simply need a little time to regroup and move on toward independence again. If parents can enjoy a child acting a bit younger and make it a game, children will typically move on quickly.

For example, if your three-year-old climbs into baby’s stroller, you could notice and in a loving voice exclaim, “Oh my, what a big baby!” Then coo and talk in “motherese.” Your three-year-old will likely say something, and then you can act surprised that a baby can talk! It won’t take long for your child to jump out of the baby stroller to show you he can run and jump and turn in circles. The necessary excursion into being the baby again will soon end, and your three-year-old will have a new boost of enthusiasm for being the big brother or sister.

Another situation may bring about a quieter form of regression. For instance, your child may want to sit on your lap when he or she hasn’t done so for quite some time. Rather than tease your child about this, enjoy cuddling and giving him or her the connection needed.

When children go through a period of regression, they will need more contact with their parents rather than less. Enjoy those cuddles and play! Your child will move on again toward independence.