Why Kids Save Up Their Bad Behavior for Mom

Why Kids Save Up Their Bad Behavior for Mom

Do your kids save up their naughtiness for when they get home? Here’s why and what to do about it.

By Jeanne Sager

The conversation usually goes something like this: A teacher or the parent of one of your child’s friends compliments you on your sweet little angel. “She’s such a pleasure, so well-behaved!” they say!

You do a double take. “My kid? Are you sure? Because she sure doesn’t act like that at home!”

Sometimes you’re being modest, but usually you’re just being honest. That sweet little darling everyone is talking about is making you want to rip your hair out at home, and you just don’t get it. Do kids save up all their bad behavior for the moment they clamber off the school bus?

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Well, yes!

“There is, indeed, a real phenomenon about many children behaving ‘perfectly’ at school, on playdates, and with everyone else except their parents at home,” says Dr. Fran Walfish, a Beverly Hills-based family and relationship psychotherapist.

There are plenty of headlines that blame kids’ poor behavior on modern parenting styles, but this split between home and school or home and a friend’s house is hardly a modern problem. When London University researchers reviewed reports from parents and teachers on more than 6,000 students way back in 1966, they found that many kids “exhibited disorders of behavior either only at school or only at home.” But you don’t have to worry that your kid has some sort of personality disorder. In fact, many kids tend to save up their bad behavior for home because they feel safer showing their naughty side to parents who they know love them.

Now for the big surprise: This is actually a good thing.

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“It is always a good sign when a child can inhibit negative impulses for any portion of the day, for instance during the full duration of a school day, and then change at home. This indicates that the child’s behavior is likely rooted in relationships and environment versus neuro-biology,” says Dr. Walfish.

In other words, kids who know how to behave in public really do have it in them to behave well overall. You’ve given them the tools to do so. And that means the problems at home are fixable.

“The vast majority of children who act out at home with mom and dad do so because they have practiced, learned, and know they can get away with it,” Dr. Walfish explains. Here are her best tips for re-setting the apple cart and helping kids to copy that at-school behavior at home:

  • Always be curious and open enough to look within and become more self aware.
  • Be kind and nice to your child(ren).
  • Do not strive for perfection. Be “good enough.”
  • Don’t get caught in power struggles.
  • Never engage in negotiations, bargaining, or deal-making.
  • Balance nurturing, setting limits and holding boundaries.
  • Listen to your child(ren).
  • Encourage healthy expression of anger.
  • Encourage your child’s unique and individual ideas, thoughts, and opinions.
  • Spend special time with your kids every day.

What do your kids do at home that they would never do at school?

Jeanne Sager is a freelance writer, photographer and social media junkie. She lives in upstate New York with her husband, daughter, and way too many pets. You can follow her @JeanneSager.

Image ©iStock.com/Juanmonino

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