Missing Hairpin

a blog full of real-life hacks for daily overwhelm.

Why Do Kids Behave Worse When Mum is Around?

by | Parenting

My child acts totally different when I am around. And not in a good way. When my daughter was with her babysitter, whenever I picked her up I heard about her amazing behaviour. I was told how well she ate, how well she played and how much fun she had during the day. I saw the pictures and videos that the babysitter showed me and so I knew she had had a good day.

Every evening was a struggle. Anything, and I mean ANYTHING could trigger her complaining or even a tantrum.  Dinner time, bath time, bedtime or even a spot on her shirt could be a reason to have a fit. She would do exactly the opposite of what I asked, just to see my reaction. Playing reverse psychology games was something I had to master. But it was exhausting for both of us. I could not understand why such behaviour occured.

The same story when visiting grandparents. They were over the moon with their adorable granddaughter. Oh, how well she listens, and eats and plays. They would use all sorts of superlatives to describe her behaviour. But as soon as I showed up, she would be nice for a few minutes and then turn into this blood-thirsty little monster (O.K. I may be exaggerating here a little but you get the picture).

My parents would comment with “She didn’t act like this when you were gone” or “This is not like her, she only does it with you”.
It made me think I was doing something wrong because she was acting so differently when I was around. I started doubting my parenting and had no clue how to change her behaviour.

Science-based explanation

I really wanted to understand my daughter better to be able to bring peace to our home so I started researching this topic. I felt great relief after learning the following. If you have ever gone through a similar struggle, I’m sure you will find this helpful too.

During the day, we are all faced with difficult and stressful situations. At nursery, preschool or babysitter, kids are busy all day long. Learning new things, playing and interacting with other kids. They have to obey rules and follow instructions all day long. This leaves a limited space for expressing frustrations and other negative emotions accumulating during the day.

Then the “volcano” of emotions errupts as soon as a mum comes.

This comes down to the fact that the bond between the kids and parents or carers is the strongest which makes them feel safer. Parents love their children unconditionally, offer support and understanding. Therefore, kids are more likely to show all range of emotions and “let out” the negativity and frustrations that they have bottled up.

This is not an unusual behaviour. As adults we do the same thing. We follow social rules and hold back certain emotions in front of people whom we don’t know very well or may be unsure how they would react. But we are more eager to unleash our anger on our close ones as we feel safer to do so.

According to Reader’s Digest, “Kids push boundaries, have meltdowns, and are so much worse around their parents because they feel safe and secure with their parents.”
Dealing with an upset or whiny child after a busy day may not be ideal but understanding the reason behind their behaviour makes it a little easier to cope with.

As parents, our job is to provide the safe place for our kids to express their emotions. Guide them, help them understand and name the emotions they experience. A two-year-old is not able to explain how their day was, let alone explain why they are feeling “on edge”.

How can we deal with this behaviour in a positive way?

Understanding the reasons for my daughter’s behaviour helped me develop strategies to deal with it.
First of all, I understood that she needs to feel connected and secure. Misbehaving is one of the ways children try to draw attention. So, I made it a habit to engage and connect with her as soon as we reunite.

As a teacher, I often see parents picking their kids up from school too busy with their mobile phones in their hands to interact with their kids. I made it a priority to put all distractions away to allow us to have some quality time together. No phones, no TV. Sometimes we sat and cuddled, other times played together. This made a massive difference and her behaviour started improving.

  A small adjustment in our routine can make a big difference in our life.  

The quality time spent together, for example talking about events which happened during the day, facilitates openness and encourages kids to sit down and try to understand their emotions. It gives us a change to explain what could be done in particular situations next time our kids are faced with a difficult choice.

I know it’s not always easy but spending time connecting with kids will help diminish the bad behaviour when mum is around.

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  1. Julianna

    This article is in perfect time for me! I’m struggling with the same issues with my 21 (almost 22) month old. Great tips, and beautifully written! Thanks!

    • Busy Mum

      Onwards and upwards Julianna! I’m just glad I could share it and help you feel reassured that your not alone in this motherly struggle 🙂

  2. Donna | The Upward Blip

    I have always known this fact and having to read this from you makes it even believable!☺️ Thank you!

    • Busy Mum

      I think all of us, mums, experience this way too often. It just feels good to know we are not alone in this and that in fact, we the “chosen ones” for our kids.


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