Here's a list of the different milestones in my children's lives that have produced the effect described above:
- Learning to walk
- Learning to read
- Learning to ride a bike without training wheels
- Going to school for the first time
- Advancing a belt in martial arts
- Learning to drive (our kids haven't gotten here yet, but I've seen it in other families)
I've thought about that and I have a few answers I'd like to offer. First of all, I don't think it's always true that the milestones cause the behavior. There are probably times when we are so excited about her achievement that we subconsciously cut the kid some slack, then reel them back in after it's over. But I'm pretty sure that's not the whole story; something bigger is going on here.
What I think is happening is this: children have a powerful drive to mature, to achieve grown-up status. It's certainly not the only drive they have, and at times it competes with, say, the drive to sneak cookies or the drive to avoid unpleasant work. But that drive to grow up is one of the most powerful motivators acting on your child.
And in your child's mind, that milestone - let's say it's riding a bike without training wheels - that ability is the next obstacle on his path to growing up. It's a big obstacle, and he's fixated on it for a while.
|Each peak obscures your view of the next...|
When she achieves her goal, it feels like she's basically a grown-up now, except for a few details. But you're still treating her the same way you did before her big success. And that, right there, is your recipe for the discord I described at the beginning.
I want to stress that this is not necessarily a bad thing. Sure, it's unpleasant when your child regresses, but I think every kid deserves to act up now and then. Mistakes and learning go hand in hand. What would life be like if somebody always interfered with that process? Achieving major milestones spikes his self-esteem a little more than it should, but the world will correct that soon enough without my help. I know I don't want to be the one knocking my kid's self-image down a peg.
So I'm not recommending any particular action; it just helps a little to understand why it's happening. I try - with mixed success - to meet the unpleasant behavior with patience and correct it the same way I would have when they were younger. Soon enough, we're back on track and their eyes are on the next goal.