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Regressive Behavior in Toddlers

by Darlena Cunha, studioD

The toddler years are a time of fast development for a child. With great leaps come moments of regression, though. These phases are typical and usually represent a mental or emotional stumbling block your child is growing through. Some common areas of regression are potty training, eating behaviors, speech and sleep.

Potty Training

The American Academy of Pediatrics marks potty training as one of the keystones of toddler development. Regression here typically occurs when an already potty-trained child begins wetting himself regularly again, usually in response to a change in your routine or life, such as the introduction of a new baby or a move. During potty training itself, you might become alarmed at the sheer number of daytime accidents your child has or the utter refusal to use a potty at first. This is not regression, and the AAP recommends staying calm and positive throughout the experience. If the accidents persist for the better part of a year, even after taking breaks in potty learning, take your child to her pediatrician to be sure the cause isn't physical.

Eating Habits

Environment and routine changes or new stresses can cause your toddler’s eating habits to revert to those of a younger child. A toddler who was previously weaned from breast or bottle may go back to nursing, and a child who was previously eating with utensils can go back to using fingers instead of forks. Picky eating can arise, with your child suddenly unwilling to try new foods, or rejecting foods he's previously eaten with no problem. “These behaviors are common in toddlers and preschoolers and are considered a normal stage of eating development,” says The Center for Community Health in Australia.


A child’s rate of speech acquisition varies greatly, and moments of regression are completely normal. Between 15 and 30 months of age, children exhibit extremely wide variation in speech and language abilities, according to pediatrician Dr. Kim Newell. However, Dr. Newell cautions parents to be on the lookout for language development that seems significantly behind your child's peers and advocates early testing and interventions like speech therapy to help children catch up before school starts. If you're concerned that your toddler’s speech regression is due to a delay or disorder, confer with your child’s healthcare provider.


If your child was previously sleeping through the night but is now waking up, there can be a myriad of causes. The solutions can be easy, though. Dr. Steven Dowshen of Kids Health of Nemours says that if your toddler starts waking in the night, behave as you should with a baby. Go to his room to comfort and reassure him, but keep the interaction quiet -- perhaps with no talking and just touching his face or tucking him back in gently -- and leave the room quickly. Refusing to engage your toddler during nighttime visits makes them boring and helps him learn that there's no benefit in waking during the night.

About the Author

Darlena Cunha has been a writer and editor since 2003. She has a Bachelor of Arts in journalism and a Bachelor of Science in biology from the University of Connecticut. Cunha is also completing her master's degree in mass communication.

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