Why children are different at home and in school

It’s hard not to take it personally when your child is an angel at school but a handful at home. However, it’s often not a parenting issue. Let’s look at what’s really going on.

Does your little one have a golden reputation among the teachers at school yet they’re regularly misbehaving at home? This can become a very frustrating situation for parents and it’s natural to feel like you’re missing something. It’s not likely that your child isn’t doing this consciously – there may be a deeper reason behind it.

When your child is able to make it through the school day on their best behaviour, only to throw a tantrum or lose their temper as soon as they get home, many parents question themselves. With reports from teachers drawing a picture of a pleasant and calm child, it can be confusing when this doesn’t tally at all with what happens when your little one arrives home. Rest assured that this isn’t all that uncommon and it’s not necessarily an issue with your parenting style.

A symptom of stress

It may be difficult for some parents to believe that their child isn’t particularly aware of the fact that they’re switching between good and bad behaviour. The truth is, they’re almost definitely not doing it on purpose. The root cause is mostly due to stress and overwhelm at school. They don’t want to act out in front of their teachers or peers and so bottle it all up until it all pours out as soon as they get home. As adults, we’ve all been there. We’ll endure a particularly stressful day at work, putting a brave face on, only to start crying once we’re in the privacy of our own home.

Adults have lots of different techniques and outlets to help de-stress after a bad day at work. Additionally, we have the awareness and understanding of what we are feeling and why we are feeling that way. Children, on the other hand, are still developing every day and have less of a grasp on their emotions. They may not realise the cause of their poor form or have any coping mechanisms.

Making it through a school day

The fact that your child can keep their emotions in check while at school is testament to their inner strength. They might also be afraid of getting into trouble with their teachers or embarrassing themselves in front of their friends. Constantly holding it all in leads to a huge build-up of stress and emotion. Without any help, there may even come a time when they’re not able to control themselves in school any longer, and they’ll begin to get into trouble.

Home sweet home

Though it may not seem like it, the fact that your child lets all their emotions out at home is a good sign. This means that they feel safe enough to be vulnerable and release all their pent up stress and anxiety. You have nurtured a home environment that allows your child to just be themselves. The stark contrast between their behaviour in school and at home is a result of how comfortable they feel at home compared to school.

Tackling the root cause

The main priority here is to identify the root cause. If your little one is displaying this sort of variation in behaviour, they’re usually struggling to cope with some form of stress, worry or fear. As mentioned, this is often due to their school experience. All little ones learn and grow at different rates and for some, the workload and expectations that come with being a young student can simply be too much. For others, it can be the social element. The pressure to make friends and the fear of being left out can be very upsetting. Children feel that they can’t express these feelings while at school, so it all comes out once they’re home.

Where to start

Begin by calmly starting a conversation with your child about how they feel. Gently encourage them to speak about how they’re finding their schoolmates and teachers and whether or not they’re struggling with the workload. Younger children may find it harder to put into words so consider asking them to draw how they feel and then describe the drawing to you.

Let the teacher know

Also, approach your little one’s teachers and discuss the issue with them directly. It may come as a surprise (your child is probably perfectly well-behaved in their eyes!) but persevere and explain the situation. Perhaps, with this context, the teacher will be able to spot the stress your child is feeling and keep this in mind when interacting with them throughout the school day.

What to do

Once the root cause is clearer to you, take steps to address it. If your child is overwhelmed by work, consult their teacher for advice. It may be the case that your little one finds a specific subject very hard and needs some extra help in that area. If your child is struggling socially, work with them to build up their confidence and self-esteem, so they feel better able to be themselves in a group environment. Reach out to mothers with children in the same class and arrange playdates so that your child can make friends away from the pressures of the classroom.

If your child’s mood swings and meltdowns have become a part of your daily routine, don’t worry. They’re trying their best to manage the hard work and complicated social dynamics of school, all while still growing and learning about themselves. While spinning all those plates, it’s completely understandable that one or two come crashing down from time to time. With open lines of communication between you and your little one, there’s nothing you can’t overcome!

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