5 Ways Covid and Lockdowns Can Cause Tricky Behaviour in Children

Covid and the current restrictions has had a big impact on all of us. Lockdown is likely to have had an influence on how you feel and behave as an adult, it can affect babies and children similarly. If babies and children are feeling anxious, confused, frustrated, bored, scared or disconnected from us (as often happens when we’re so busy trying to work from home and keep everything together) there are five distinct tricky behaviours that can surface:

1. Sleep Problems

One of the first things to change if we’re feeling big emotions is our sleep. We struggle to get to sleep at night and we wake more often in the night. Babies and children are no different. Bedtime refusal, naps all over the place and significantly more night waking are all very common and very normal reactions to the current situation. You may also find that your toddler or preschooler is ‘clingier’ when it comes to sleep – and that they only settle if they are back in your room, or bed, in the night. An understandable reaction to all the uncertainty of the moment, they are seeking the one thing that reassures them the most – you – at a time they feel most vulnerable. Now is not the time to sleep train!

2. Restricted Eating

If we are anxious, stressed or scared, our eating habits will often change. We’ll become pickier, our appetites will change (often lessening) and we will often turn to foods that provide an instant comfort hit – carbs and sweet things. All eating behaviours that are common in toddlers, preschoolers and older children at the moment. Not to mention the fact our – and their -normal eating routines and times have gone out the window, it’s no wonder their eating habits have changed!

3. More Tantrums and Whining

Tantrums and whining are both classic responses to a child struggling with a lack of control, big uncomfortable feelings, frustration and a lack of connection with their primary caregivers. They also pick up on your emotions and subconscious communication. Forget punishments (naughty steps, time out etc..) and rewards (stickers, bribes, loads of praise etc) – they could make things worse and instead focus on supporting, connecting, listening and empathising. Your adult brain is mature enough to process these big feelings and you’re struggling, imagine how difficult it is to not have that brain development!

4. Increased Sibling Bickering

Are you getting a little sick of spending all day every day with your family? Are you desperate for some socialising with those outside your own 4 walls? Your child is too! What happens when we’re stressed? We tend to take it out on those we love most, especially if they are irritating us. A lack of personal space and time compounds this, expect sibling issues to increase now – but trust that they are temporary and not an illustration of future relationships!

5. Regressions in Toileting

It’s quite likely your perfectly potty trained toddler has regressed over the past few weeks and months, why? Because difficult emotions and a struggle with autonomy often manifest as toileting regressions in toddlers. Have patience, stay calm, stay consistent and avoid ‘telling off’ and rewarding, instead focus on support, empathy and good role modelling.

If this article has piqued your interest in gentle discipline, check out my new discipline book.  It is released under the title ‘The Gentle Discipline Book‘ in the UK and under the title ‘Gentle Discipline‘ in the USA and Canada. The book covers common tricky behaviours from babyhood right the way through to the teen years and how to cope with them in a gentle and effective way


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Published by SarahOckwell-Smith

Sarah Ockwell-Smith, Parenting author and mother to four.

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