Has your 5-year-old’s development regressed? This could be what’s causing it

Children grow up so fast – exploring, playing, learning and forming their unique personalities. At the age of 5, children should be reaching various key developmental milestones – these include showing greater independence, self-control and creativity through play and social interaction. Children at this age naturally begin exploring, trying new things and start expressing their emotions and feelings through verbal and non-verbal communication.

Educational Psychologist, Kristen Strahlendorf from the Family Tree Therapy Center shares how parents can identify certain age-appropriate milestones in their 5-year olds development and what to do if a regression is suspected. These guidelines are not set in stone for all 5-year olds as each child develops at their own pace, but it’s important to be aware of the signs of a prolonged delay – this could be a red flag that may need to be explored further.

Kristen outlines four developmental pillars that parents can use when ascertaining their 5-year old’s age-appropriate milestones:

Physical Development

Your child is growing vertically! Yes, they are starting to grow taller, developing from their cute chubby selves losing their ‘baby fat’ and achieving 20/20 vision. Physically they start looking as though they are ready to go to school. Checking your child’s eyesight and hearing is crucial. Consult your GP to see if your child is within the age-appropriate health guidelines. By the age of five, your child should have reached the following physical milestones:

  • The ability to hop, skip, run and jump really starts to develop at this age. They should have good balance and better coordination.
  • As their muscles become more fine-tuned, a 5-year-old should be able to dress themselves, handle buttons and zips, and learn how to tie their shoelaces.

ALSO SEE: What your 4-year-old child should know

Emotional Development

At this stage, your 5-year-old starts to say what they feel. They are able to show empathy, and verbal and physical self-expression should come more naturally and easily to them.

Mom can expect to start hearing “I don’t want to… or “I am mad at you” responses. This is your child’s way of showing their independence and is a sign of their opinions and views developing.

At this age, children are also more easily able to separate from their parents/caregivers and enjoy playing and sharing with others. Their attention span is also increasing, with most 5-year-olds being able to follow through on an instruction for at least 5 minutes.

Social Development

Your child should be able to make new friends and be friendly with teachers and peers. Relationship forming is a key developmental trait at this stage.  Close knit bonds are common with most 5-year-olds forming attachments with small circles of friends – usually two or three children. Your child starts to become more aware of the need to be socially accepted and wants to please their friends. They also are more likely to agree and follow some rules.

ALSO SEE: 5 tips to help your child in Grade R or Grade 1 make new friends at school

Cognitive Development

Cognitive appropriate functioning is related to speech and language. Can other adults understand your child? Has their vocabulary started to expand? Are they able to count to 10? Can your child brush their teeth with supervision?

Your child should also understand right and wrong. “Playing is an essential cognitive function – we all learn through play and experiential learning”, says Kristen. This will also allow your 5-year-old to start understanding what they enjoy doing.

Why childhood regressions happen?

Regressions can unfortunately happen at any time. This is when a sudden and significant change in physical and behavioural stages can indicate signs of a neurological or developmental challenge. In mild cases, these can be normal where triggers stop, pause or create a shock to the developmental milestone stage. Something as small as a change in routine, move in school or something new can create regression. “These can be subtle cues or loud cries for help”, says Kristen. It is essential to consult with an educational psychologist to ascertain the delay or trigger responsible for the regression.

How can i help my regressing child?

Sometimes parents don’t know what has triggered their child’s regression. This can manifest academically, emotionally, cognitively or even socially. Parents should try to rule out cause-and-effect. If this doesn’t work, the help of an experienced professional can assess and try assist.

Kristen says that you should not scold or over-emphasis what your child had done previously. Parents should avoid saying “You could do this before and now you can’t” or “What’s wrong with you, are we going backwards now”.

Parents should rather support their child in what they can do today, and not compare them to anyone else. Kristen reminds parents that “every child matures in their own time”.

Helping your child is more than seeking the assistance of a professional. It’s about spending time, listening and hearing when they speak. Some of their messages and cries for help are not often verbal or physical.

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