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When my son was a toddler he used to go to preschool during the day. In the afternoon, when I went to pick him up, I run into the same scenario over and over again.
Every time when I would ask about his behavior during the day I would only hear good things. The teacher was telling me that he played nicely with other kids. That he ate all the vegetables at lunchtime. That he went to sleep without complaining. Or that he was patient and cooperative during the activities.
And I could also see his nice behavior in the photos and videos that I was receiving from the teacher almost every day.
It made me happy to know that he is so well-adjusted! But I was also surprised to hear all these things because his behavior at home in the evening was a completely different story.
Every single evening something would happen that would trigger his crying or even a tantrum. He would jump all over the house ignoring my requests to stop. He would complain about the dinner or the bedtime. Or he would just find a random dangerous thing to do just to watch my reaction.
He was a completely different boy than the one at preschool.
The same thing would happen when visiting his grandparents during the weekend. He was very nice while he was alone with them. But he would start behaving differently as soon as I came to pick him up.
I used to hear phrases like “He only does this with you” or “He never acts like this when you’re not around”. I’m not talking only about misbehaving but also about playing in a much more energetic way or doing riskier things.
At some point, I even thought that I was doing something wrong as a mom because I couldn’t understand why he is behaving so differently while I’m around.
What science says about this behavior
I was curious to understand my child’s behavior so I started researching this topic. And the findings were so such a relief!
If you ever went through a similar struggle, I’m sure that you’ll find them helpful as well!
Here is the science-based reason for children behaving worse when their parents are around:
Every day children are dealing with frustrations and other intense feelings that make them feel overwhelmed. At school, they need to follow instructions and obey many rules. When they spend time with someone else (a relative or a babysitter) they do their best to behave. they don’t always get the chance to express their feelings or overcome the strong emotions that come from different unpleasant situations that they face during the day.
Everything changes when mom is around.
Because mom is the person that makes the child feel safe. The kids know that their moms can offer them understanding, support, and unconditional love. They know that their moms can help them overcome all those intense feelings that they accumulated during the day.
This is why a child that did their best to hold it together for the whole day will start crying or misbehaving when mom is around.
I know that dealing with a whining or crying child after a busy day is not easy. But if you think about the real reason for this behavior things get a little easier to handle.
As parents, we want to create this safe place for our children. We want them to know that we will support them no matter what. That they can share their feelings with us and that we will always help them overcome their daily struggles.
And this is exactly what this behavior is about!
Young children cannot just come to us and tell us how hard their day was. So they use their behavior as a way to signal us that they need our love and support.
photo credit: Alena Ozerova / shutterstock.com
How we can deal with this behavior in a positive way
Understanding the real reason for my son’s behavior helped me find better ways to deal with it.
First of all, I understood that his behavior meant that he needs to feel connected with me. So every day after picking him up from preschool I focused on connecting with him.
We talked and laughed on our way home. Then, after arriving home, I spent some time with him without any distractions. We would just cuddle or play on the floor.
But this meant so much for him!
I could see how his behavior changed in the evenings when I would put connection first. It made things a lot easier for both of us!
I also made a habit of slowing down and connecting with my son after each separation. I’m not able to do this all the time but I try to do it often because it helps so much!
A playful solution to help you build more connection
If you are dealing with a similar issue and you want to start connecting with your child on a daily basis even on the busiest days, I invite you to join our Playful Connection Challenge. This is a 5-day challenge that will help you connect with your child in just half an hour a day and it will bring more joy and connection to your home!
Here are some other articles with helpful information about this behavior and the real reason that is causing it:
- Here’s Why Kids Behave So Much Worse Around Their Parents (by Reader’s Digest) – a science-based explanation for this behavior
- The Reason Why Children are 800% Worse When Their Mothers Are Around (by Creative Healthy Family) – a wonderful article that explains why children act out when parents are around
- Does Your Kid Behave Much Better When You’re NOT Around? (by Huffington Post) – a great article on this topic, especially if your relatives are implying that you are responsible for the child’s misbehavior or that you are doing something to cause it.
I hope that you found these ideas helpful and that they made your child’s behavior easier to understand!
*** The “Decoding children’s behaviors” series will focus on different behaviors of young children and the real reasons behind them. As a mom, understanding my child’s behavior helped me find better ways to offer him the support he needs and has strengthened our relationship. My hope is that this series will help other parents too!
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photo credit preview photo: monkeybusiness / depositphotos.com – photo credit Pinterest photo ilona75 / depositphotos