“They were angels!”
This is what I hear when I pick my girls up from preschool.
And yet, as soon as they spot me across the playground, the whining, tears, foot stomping and general ‘bad attitude’ begin.
Why? Why do they save this delightful behaviour for me?
Fake Study Highlights A Very Real Issue
Back in 2015, a study titled Study: Children Are 800% Worse When Their Mothers are in the Room did the rounds online.
Although it was clearly a fake, humorous article, the premise actually highlighted an issue many parents face on a daily basis.
Why is it our children can be absolute gems for someone else (their teachers, grandparents, sports coaches) and yet, when they get in the car, they unleash their fury on us?
When I was working in a long day care centre, I heard countless parents lament how their children would “save their bad behaviour”, and now, as a parent myself, I can totally relate to that.
It is frustrating, when you’ve had a long day at work and want to enjoy time with your child, only to be greeted by cranky, pouty little people.
But, as I used to reassure parents (and now try to reassure myself), if anything, this “saving of bad behaviour” should actually be taken as something of a compliment.
Why Do Kids Save Their Worst Behaviour For Parents?
The key reason children save their ‘worst’ behaviour for their parents is security.
When children know they’re loved, nurtured and safe, even if their behaviour might be a little (or a lot) unpleasant, they feel secure in letting it out.
Let’s face it – we all need to let it out at times. And when we do, it’s for the same reason – security.
We are polite and pleasant at work, but we sometimes just want to stomp our feet, shake our fists, and yell at the top of our lungs. And then we come home and vent at our spouses, leaving them to feel the full brunt of our bad mood.
We know that our spouses love us, even when we are cranky. We know they’ll forgive our mean words or scowling facial expressions. Children are exactly the same.
What Can We Do About Our Kids’ Behaviour?
Quite simply – suck it up. As much as we would like our children to be perfectly behaved all of the time, it’s a huge expectation. They are human beings with real emotions.
They get tired.
They get hungry.
They feel disconnected.
They feel scared.
They want our attention.
Children’s behaviour is a signal – a way of communicating a need or a problem. When we take time to respond to their needs and respond to children with love, the ‘bad behaviour’ doesn’t seem so bad. Children (and adults) who have their needs met are less likely to act out, to be stressed, or to be emotional.
Trying to rationalise with children or ‘fix’ the behaviour will have little to no effect.
Their bodies and brains go into overdrive. High levels of cortisol take over and impede language function and general wellbeing.
Respond With Love And Pick Your Battles
Possibly the best parenting advice I ever received was from my own mother (who had plenty of opportunity to test this out with yours truly) and it was quite simply this: pick your battles.
Although there are things that are non-negotiable with children (e.g. holding hands to cross the road) there are many others in the grand scheme of things that are just not worth fighting over.
My three year old wants to go to the shops, wearing her fairy dress with yellow gumboots and a pair of old red sunglasses. Sure, why not? Is it what I would choose for her? No. Does it affect her safety or wellbeing? No.
If I turn around and say, “No, you need to wear your clothes and your sandals”, we will most likely have an eruption of tears, foot stomping and general unpleasantness, for a significant period of time, which will slow down our exit from the house and stress everyone out in the process.
Too often we get caught up in the little things, when it’s really the big thing that matters – love. I love her and she loves me. Do I really want our relationship to be marred by moments of anger, frustration, tantrums and tears? No.
So I give her a big hug and tell her she looks brilliant in her outfit of choice. Then I can enjoy the smiles of elderly shoppers, who admire her unique look. I can enjoy seeing her self-satisfaction. I can enjoy my time with her.