Mismatched Behaviors: Is Your Child’s Behavior Different at School than at Home?

‘Tis the season…

For parent teacher conferences! 

We are at that time of year again, where parents get the opportunity to sit down one on one with their child’s teacher… And learn some new and possibly surprising things about their child!! 

I just saw a teacher meme this morning that joked about a common parent comeback at conferences: 

Oh he never does that at home!

And teachers everywhere begin rolling their eyes. 

But wait! In reality the child the teacher sees at school might be a SEEMINGLY DIFFERENT CHILD from the one you see at home. And it doesn’t mean that you are a bad parent (really it doesn’t!), or that your child has a bad teacher. It isn’t random. And you, your, child, and your child’s teacher are not alone!

Why does your child act differently at school?

In fact, it is very common for your child to act differently at school than at home. It usually goes one of two, entirely opposite ways. Either:

  1. Your child is generally well-behaved at school and is a hellion at home, or
  2. Your child is a hellion at school and is generally well-behaved at home. 

Let’s look a little closer at the first scenario. 

Child is doing well at school but acting up at home. At parent-teacher conferences, you have prepared a list of comebacks for your child’s difficult and often problematic behavior. He is just spirited! you think to yourself on the way to the school…Only to find out that your child  exhibits none of the issues that you experience at home and is actually a calm, controlled, prim and proper student. 

Then why is their behavior at home so atrocious?

Well, first and foremost: Home is safe. 

At home, your child is surrounded by the people who love them. They are surrounded by their favorite things. They are surrounded by the familiar. They feel and cozy and snuggly at home, and when they feel so safe and secure, they are going to act however they want. They are going to run and yell and throw tantrums. They know you are going to love them and keep them safe regardless of their behavior. So they are going to let it all out. 

Further, think of how much effort it takes a child to be calm, controlled, prim, and proper at school. When they get home, they want to let loose. They can let it all hang out. It’s the same reason I put on pajamas the instant I walk into my house. It’s my house; I’m not wearing jeans!!

We see this a lot at the beginning of the school year when kids are adjusting to the many rules and regulations of a new classroom. Kids often come home and slump onto the couch or the floor. Their bodies, minds, and spirits are entirely worn out. 

After school emotional release.

At the beginning of the school year it is not uncommon to even have after school tears. And lots of them. Little ones have been bottling up all that emotion and energy and finally feel safe to let it out (maybe even in the car ride home!) 

Child exhibits appropriate behavior at home but struggles with school behavior. So you may have a child who contains it all at school and let’s it all out at home or the exact opposite: this child let’s it all out at school. At conferences, you are surprised to hear how they act at school. He never does that at home! you gasp when the teacher tells you of all the various misdemeanors your child commits in the classroom. Won’t share. Won’t sit still. Pushes other kids. Runs in the halls. Won’t stay in line. Shouts out during storytime. Won’t listen to the teacher.

But we don’t have any behavior problems at home, you wonder. Aside from the typical “kid stuff” you have always thought that your child was a pretty good kid.  

So let’s think about this second scenario. Why is your child struggling with school behavior? Especially in the younger years, school is full of newness. New everything

New rules where they need to sit in a circle for an extended period of time. They are learning new concepts and experiencing new ideas. There are new social rules where they need to share their toys with other children and they need to clean up after themselves. They are experiencing all these new things among a classroom of other children (also new) and an adult whom they most likely have just met. 

It’s a tough situation all around. And it takes some getting used to. And your child’s teacher understands this. So if it is still early in the school year, there is no need to panic. It is perfectly normal for a child to struggle at the beginning of the school year with appropriate school behavior and then over time, to begin to become acclimated to the school environment. 

Everything is so new!

So what do you do?
So how do you respond when you hear that your child is being a totally different person at school than at home? We all want our children to be their best selves. We also don’t want to see them struggling. If you find that your child’s behavior is getting out of control at home or at school, try the following:

1.) Look at the morning transition to school. Mornings before school can be hectic! Try to streamline this transition as much as possible. Create a routine and stick to it. We use our race car routine to get ready in the morning (Check out our morning routine checklist). If we go a few days without it, the morning battles and the whining begins. Beginning a day with a bad attitude just lends itself to further struggles. Give your child a positive start to a positive day!

2.) Look at the behavior trigger. If your child is acting up at home, what precedes the behavior? What are you doing right before the struggle begins?  And what are the expectations? Are their clear boundaries at home? And what about at school? Is your child struggling to adhere to the structure of school? Jot down (with the teacher if it is a school issue) what happens right before, during, and after the behavior to determine a whole picture of the behavior and to determine what triggers it. Find the trigger and you can begin brainstorming solutions.  

3.) Look at positive ways your child can vent or de-stress after school. What does your child do immediately after school? Do you bombard them with millions of questions? Do they need a snack to recharge their energy? What kind of activities are available to them to release any pent up frustation from school?

Yoga is one great way for your child to refresh their mind and body after school. Kids Cosmic Yoga on YouTube is a great place to start if your child is new to yoga. My kids do best when we learn the moves then shut off the TV, or they are tempted to watch it like a show! Other quiet time activities that work great for after school are Legos, coloring, pre-prepared crafts, solitary games, and reading. 

Today after school…literally straight to the Legos

Pay attention to ways your child de-stresses and go from there; some children may need physical activity (jumping, running, rolling), and some may just need some down time to themselves. 

4.) Give it time. Is it still early in the school year? Think of all the new elements a new school year brings. Give your child time to adjust. By December, the routine of the school year is solidified and you should start seeing improvement at home. 

If you are still seeing the same struggles far into the school year, it might be time to reevaluate the situation. Just how much are they keeping bottled in at school? What is the school environment like? 

5.) Look into sensory breaks. Some children might just need to have some breaks during the school day to recharge. Sensory breaks can work at home, too. Check out Lemon Lime Adventures’ post to get some ideas of what sensory breaks look like. 

6.) Gifted kid? Look into psychomotor overexcitabilities (yep, that’s a mouthful) if your child’s sentivities seem to be an issue long into the school year.  Raising Lifelong Learners has a great post on overexcitabilities in gifted children.

If your child’s behavior is different from school than at home, it is not an initial cause for concern. All kids go through a learning curve when they are experiencing a new school year. Further, kids may even “honeymoon” at the beginning of the year and new behaviors may begin to crop up after the initial excitement of a school year is over. But if your child is really struggling or you feel that something is off, then it is time to intervene. I detest the term “helicopter parent.” Hover all you want!! I would always rather have parents that are over involved than ones who could care less about what is going on with their child in the classroom. 

Stumped about your child’s mismatched behavior? Feel free to leave a comment, send me an email, or find me on FB. 


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