Are you waiting for that phonecall from the teacher? The one where they tell you what a terror your child is being in school? Because you know that at home they seem to always be crying, having a meltdown, not listening to directions and acting out. Or they yell and scream and just can’t get along with anyone. But then you get the report from school, only to hear that they are a complete angel. They listen well, get along with others, and are offering help to the teacher. Why does your child act differently at school?
Whose kid is this? Do they love their teacher more than they love you? Why do they act so differently at school than they do at home?
This happens a lot! You are not alone. Kids often act differently at home than at school, and this is especially true if your child struggles with anxiety, ADHD or autism. But don’t take it personally. It isn’t you! And it isn’t a sign that their teacher is a better parent than you. In fact, quite the opposite.
Why are kids so different at school?
There are many reasons why a child acts like two different people. Think about when you are at work and when you are at home. Are you acting the same? How about when you are at a family function with your mother-in-law, and when you are with your friends? We all learn to adapt to the situations we are in. Kids are learning this too, and aren’t always able to articulate why or know how to control it.
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Here are some common reasons they act differently in school.
- Trying to please the teachers – They are seeking approval from teachers and want to do their best. They already know how much their parents love them and don’t have to work as hard for your approval.
- They are tired at home – Your child has been “working” hard all day at school. They use their coping strategies and try to hold their emotions together when they’re in a social situation. When they get home, they’re exhausted and don’t have patience, or the ability to cope as well.
- They feel safe at home – When you are safe at home, you can be your true self. You don’t need to pretend or try to fit into hidden social norms. If your child is acting out, it just means they are in a safe space at home and they need to get those emotions out. They just need your help in finding healthy ways to do that. Take this as a positive sign when your children feel safe at home. We all need these spaces.
- Consistent Schedule at School – Usually schools are regimented and have strict schedules that need to be kept, even for eating and using the restroom. At home, schedules are irregular and often disrupted with new events. Think about when you suddenly decide to go out to eat because you don’t feel like cooking. This is a change in the routine and even though it may feel less stressful for you, it can add stress for a child.
What if my child behaves better at home than at school?
It is also common for a child to be better behaved at home and struggle with school. Reasons for this may be:
- Social Anxiety – Suddenly they are surrounded by people, all day long.
- Extra stimulation – More kids, more noise, movement
- Less individualized support – At home, they have you, and maybe a few siblings. This is a different support than at school where there are sometimes 30 kids in a classroom.
- Teachers don’t know your child – You know your child, and you can sense when their anxiety is going up. You know what will trigger a meltdown. Unfortunately, it takes a teacher time to learn this, and until then, it can lead to more stress.
Working With School
You can ease the transition between school and home. Focus on creating a partnership with the school where you are working together. Don’t be afraid to initiate this partnership with the teachers.
Start with communication. Discuss the strengths of your child and what they can do well. Let them know what your child may struggle with, but also, how to look for the triggers of behavior and how to intervene early.
Create a communication plan with the teachers. Discuss how often you want communication and what’s the best way, either by phone, email or even in-person meetings. You can even request multiple in-person meetings, outside of conference times, to connect with school staff.
Focus on consistency between school and home. Do you have visuals or strategies you use at home that they could also use at school? Ask teachers what is working at school and try to do the same at home. It is also important to use the same language with your child.
When things are not going well, focus on one problem at a time. Put your energy and problem solving skills into just one issue, then celebrate the growth your child makes on that one goal. This allows your child to also feel success without having to focus on everything.
What Can You Do At Home?
We are all tired when we come home from school or work. Find ways that you can relax and decompress as a family. Everyone needs this down time. Especially before jumping into any homework or other activities. Find that healthy balance.
Understand your child’s perspective about why they are acting the way they do. Remember, don’t take it personally when your child is different at home than at school. You are their safe person. They need you to love them and accept them for who they are.
They will continue to learn ways to cope with their feelings at home, just like you do as an adult.
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