Why Do Kids Act Worse for their Parents?

Children behave worse for parents
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Although it can be gratifying to hear your child was “an angel” at daycare or that Grandma "never heard a peep" from him after he went to bed, reports of a miraculously well-behaved child can also be perplexing to parents. How can the same child who delights in breaking the rules, refuses to follow directions, and throws serious temper tantrums at home can receive nothing but positive reports from other caregivers?

Although kids sometimes behave better in other environments because their parents are pushovers or because there isn't much structure at home, discipline problems certainly aren’t always the root cause. There are several other reasons that lead children to act worse for their parents.

Kids Feel Most Comfortable with Their Parents

Your child knows you’ve seen him at his worst and you still love him. So when he’s with you, he’s not going to hold back. Instead, he’s likely to let loose and be himself.

Often, kids hold it together all day at daycare or at school. They may know it’s not socially appropriate to throw a temper tantrum in front of their friends or they may be a little uneasy about how another caregiver would respond to behavior problems. So after working so hard to behave all day, your child may finally feel comfortable enough to misbehave because he trusts you and knows what type of negative consequences you're likely going to use when he breaks the rules.

Other People Often Have Fewer Demands

Whether your child spends the night at Auntie’s house for one night or he goes to Dad’s house on the weekends, there are likely to be fewer demands placed on him in other environments. While he may have chores, homework and other responsibilities to take care of in your home, it’s likely that many other environments focus more on having fun and less on learning and behaving responsibly.

Kids Get Mad When Parents Aren’t There

Sometimes, kids become angry and resentful because they were at daycare all day or because their parents weren’t with them. When they don’t know how to express those feelings appropriately, sometimes they misbehave. While your child may have had fun and may be excited about going to school or daycare, there may be a part of him that is upset that you aren’t going to be with him all day. In an attempt to punish you when you pick him up, he may begin to misbehave.

Misbehaving Can be a Way to Get Attention

If your child hasn’t seen you all day, he may immediately begin to misbehave when he’s with you. While you’re checking in with the preschool teacher or trying to hear how his overnight adventure with Grandma went, he may begin to throw toys, scream, or even hit as a way to get the focus back on him. Kids often enjoy attention, even when it's negative attention.

Some Kids Struggle to Deal with Transitions

If your child struggles to deal with transitions, you may receive the brunt of his behavior whenever you reconnect with him.

If he’s gone for an hour, a day, or a weekend, it may take him a while to get back into the routine of being with you again. This can be an especially common problem for divorced parents who share custody as kids sometimes struggle to transition from one home to another.

Strategies to Deal with Misbehavior

Don’t take it personally if your child puts his best foot forward when he’s with other people. Instead, be grateful that he’s behaving when you’re not around and focus your energy on providing consistent discipline when he’s with you. Establish clear rules and apply effective negative consequences each time those rules are broken.

With consistency, it’s likely your child’s behaviors will improve as he matures. After all, if he’s behaving for other people, he’s most likely learning the skills he needs to manage himself well. It just may take a while for him to be able to apply those skills consistently when he's with you.

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