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Ready, Set, Regress

Some children need a little extra babying before they're ready to get on with growing upby Bonnie Perkel

One of the mysteries of raising an adopted child is that it's often hard to know whether behavior is a result of adoption or just a normal step in the development process.

Because my daughter, Kira, had spent the beginning of her life in an orphanage, I worked consciously to build her up--nutritionally, developmentally, and psychologically. And since I'd adopted Kira shortly after completing a master's degree in education, I used everything I had learned about child development. Still, every day brought new puzzles.

From an outsider's view, my daughter appeared independent and agile. By age three, she was tying her shoes and bounding from one monkey bar to another at the playground. But at home she often wanted to be treated like a baby. When other children were climbing out of their cribs, mine wanted to stay safely locked inside hers. Kira liked to crawl all over me and flail her arms in a way she thought made her look more like a baby. Long after other children her age had relinquished their nighttime bottles, mine could not seem to let go. I was careful to remove the bottle from her mouth to prevent tooth decay, but reluctant to forbid it. It seemed too important to her.

Finally, at three, her crib was replaced by a toddler bed, and, just as I was beginning to fear she would take her bottle to the prom, it slipped effortlessly from her mouth. Were we alone in this situation? Not at all. I have since learned about other bottles hidden away in cupboards and other  toddlers who like to curl up in their parents' laps to play baby.

The Uses of Regression
Psychologists tell us that some children regress in order to calm themselves or regain control. This seems normal--and logical. Still, it can be hard for parents when regressive behaviors come just as we've gotten past the "terrible twos," and when pediatricians are telling us to throw away the bottles.

Often babyish behaviors disappear without our learning their cause. Did my child want to be treated like a baby to recreate and mend her past, or simply because she liked it? If we satisfy our children's needs until they are quenched, will new memories replace recollections of neglect? I've seen many toddlers--adopted and not--return, over and over, to the nurturing rituals of infancy before they feel ready to step into the next phase of their lives. Our job is less to wonder why than to provide strong arms and a warm lap to hold them--until they're ready to move on.

Bonnie Perkel lives with her daughter, Kira, in Newton, Massachusetts.

Pill Swallowing 101
By age five, most children are ready to master the art of pill swallowing. Here are a few techniques to help the medicine go down:

  • Have your child place the pill on the back of his tongue, and then fill his mouth with water until his cheeks are full. Encourage him to swallow the water in as few swallows as possible. The pill should go down his throat without his knowing. 

  • Or, have your child place the pill under his tongue gently (without holding the pill down), and have him drink water in gulps from a cup. Often the pill will slip out from under the tongue and go down the throat easily. 

  •  If water doesn't work, try milk, a milkshake, or liquid yogurt to slow down the swallowing mechanism and push the pill along. However, some medications should be taken only with water, so check with your pharmacist first.

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