Behaviour change & regression

Young children can become more clingy, distant, or fearful after their injury. If you had an infant who had begun walking, you might have noticed that they have returned to crawling or sitting on your lap. Similarly, a baby who is eating solids may now want a bottle again, and a toddler who was using the toilet may temporarily return to wearing nappies. This is known as regression.

“Food was a big thing when she came out of hospital. Her eating habits were really bad because she wouldn’t eat in hospital. Milk was her only thing and she never really had milk before but now she was living on it. She wanted four or five bottles a day because she wouldn’t eat and she was always one of the biggest foodie kids. You could put anything in front of and she’d try it, she’d eat anything. But after her accident we had about two months of struggling to make her eat. Really struggling. She’s much, much better now but then being with the psychologist and helping me see what was wrong – it wasn’t just the fact that she wasn’t eating it was me giving in to her. She really helped you think, ’Actually, you’re right. If I give her milk in the morning she’s not going to eat breakfast – she’ll be full, she’s only a kid.’ It does show you. Once she did start eating, she had jam sandwiches and a bag of crisps one afternoon and I couldn’t believe it!”

Older children sometimes also show signs of regression after a burn injury. You might notice that they are sucking their thumb, lacking concentration, becoming tired easily, or wanting to sleep in your bed. This is usually the child’s way of dealing with stress, fear, loneliness and/or pain.

“He did regress a little bit and went back in a nappy. But it was only for a very short time. Once he saw others going to the toilet, he wanted to go to the toilet as well.”

What can you do to help?

With love, comfort, your presence, and a normal daily routine, these feelings of vulnerability should begin to pass and your child’s confidence should return, but this can take time.

“You’ve just got to go with it. And then, you know, once they start to heal a bit more, it passes. It all kind of goes back to normal.”

You should keep your family routines the same and encourage your child, rather than trying to force them to change. A forceful approach is likely to result in anger or upset. If your child’s confidence does not return after a few months, speak to your burns team for further advice.

“We found that it was just about maintaining the routines, not just the boundaries, it’s keeping everything the same as much as possible. I think parents sometimes need permission to do that because it will help. You might be feeling guilty about it, you might be thinking, ‘oh, the poor thing’s got enough to deal with’, but actually this is really important. The kindest thing that you can do for your child is keep everything the same around them, as much as you can.”