His Preschool Teacher: “He is such a good listener!”
His swimming coach: “He works so hard!”
His grandparents: “He is so good!”
Aquaintences: “He is so well-behaved!”
Me: “What in the world have you all be smoking?!?
Anyone else feel like this? Of course I am immensely glad that 99% of the time my son behaves for other caretakers/authority figures in his life, but why, oh why in the world does he save all of his bad behavior for me?
Believe me, I am extremely grateful, that compared to Jesse Pinkman, my son is a saint, but then again, he is only three! Truth be told, I am sincerely glad that he has the self-control, to behave and have respect, for all of those other well-meaning caretakers in his life. Still, it can be disheartening and frustrating when your son only misbehaves for you, and occasionally, your husband.
So, what is behind this discrepancy between your child’s behavior in your presence and when you are not around? Well, a lot of people agree with the belief of Sara Bean, M.Ed., author of “Angel Child or Devil Child? When Kids Save Their Bad Behavior For You,” that “children study their parents for a living and if your child acts out at home, but not in public, he’s figured out that he can over power you with his anger and tantrums”. Most people who agree with this notion, equally agree that our children also behave badly for us at home because we are their “safe person”. They feel completely secure with our unconditional love and affection, so they “let loose” in our presence. There is also another perspective that your child is devoting so much energy to behave and “keep it together” while not in your presence, that upon returning to your presence, he is no longer capable of good behavior; he has no energy left to devote to self-control and self-regulation.
So, what are you to do about this? Who the heck knows? Maybe you were thinking that I know the right answer, but I don’t. However, I do know what I have been working on, in my own home, to attempt to modify my son’s behavior so that it is streamlined and exemplified in the same way, across all situations, and in my presence or not.
Here is how I am working towards breaking bad behavior at home:
— I am consulting my sons outside caretakers for their advice. This includes his teachers and grandparents. As parents, we need to not feel ashamed in asking for advice from others when it comes to dealing with our own child. You may be uncomfortable putting the notion out there that you do not have a grasp on your child’s behavior, but sharing this with those other individuals that know and love your child, can only benefit your child and you. Those individuals may be able to inform you as to what they make of your child’s behavior. They may draw your attention to parts of your child’s personality that you may not have recognized or given credence to. They may inform you of their own personality traits and ways of doing things that seem to engage your child and draw respect out of your child. Do not feel ashamed to seek the advice of others whom you respect. And, if you are leaving your child with a teacher or a grandparent for a certain amount of time, I would hope and pray that you feel they are someone you respect.
— I am reading self-help books on parenting. For those that enjoy reading and enjoy sharpening their parenting skills, self-help books are the way to go. When I read parenting books, I always use a pen and take notes. This helps me when I am dealing with a situation and need an immediate reminder on the best way to tackle it, as I am able to quickly find my “note to self,” without having to re-read a whole chapter. Often times, I will refer back to different books and different perspectives on the same topic, as on occasion, I find myself coming up with my own new perspective, which is typically a combination of a few of the opinions across all of the books.
— I am working on being less controlling. I think a lot of my son’s bad behavior at home stems from the fact that he feels he has no control at home. I am always trying to direct what he eats, what he wears, where we go and how long we stay there, etc. I know for a fact, when he is with his grandparents, that he gets to be his own “cruise director” and gets to map out his own course for the day. This excites him and he welcomes this. The same is true for school, where although there is some structure and organization, the children (if you pick the right preschool) are really the leaders of their day. This is how it should be in the home as well, while you of course are mainly ensuring safety.
— I am trying to go through each day with a sense of calm. As a parent to multiple children, it can be hard to avoid your own daily meltdown when milk has been spilled for the fourth time, the baby just drew on herself and the wall with a permanent marker and your daughter is screaming and crying because she can’t stop itching her bug bite. All these things can be aggravating and exasperating and can make you want to lock yourself in the bathroom. I will tell you, you can do no good to repair your child’s bad behavior at home from behind a locked bathroom door. Instead, you need to work on approaching life’s “small stuff” with a sense of perspective and serenity. Think “if this fourth cup of spilled milk is the worst thing that has happened to me today, I have it pretty good”. Take a deep breath and find a way to establish some calm amongst the present chaos.
— I am trying to accept mistakes; both my children’s and my own. This is super hard for me, as my whole life I have seemingly been working towards the ‘holy grail’ of perfection; perfection in my appearance, in my marriage, in my parenting and at past jobs. Perfection is not real. Perfection does not exist. “Perfect children” are a myth and even if my child was perfect, man oh man, how boring would that be? By seeking perfection in myself and expecting it in my children, I have basically taught my kids that “home is not a place for mistakes”. How frightening is that? Imagine going to your place of work knowing that you will be chastised for even the smallest of a mistake. You would never want to go back and if you did, you would not be happy. Well, the same goes for your child and your home — if you create an atmosphere that is daunting to them, they are not going to have a desire to behave. Some people contend that bad behavior is a result of insecurity and if your child is insecure about making mistakes in your presence, bad behavior may be inevitable.
I guess my overall thinking is that if I continue to make some changes to myself and my parenting style, I may have a chance at “breaking” this bad behavior that only takes place in my presence. At the same time, I do believe that some of the bad behavior is merely a part of a phase that my child is going through and that it will pass, in due time. Still, I want to ensure that I am providing my children with the best environment for their behavioral development and therefore I need to improve the home environment.
Some of you have gotten to the end of this post and are thinking, why is she telling me to make changes? You may believe that it is your child that needs to make the changes and you who should be holding him accountable for those. But, consider this…”The sign of great parenting is not the child’s behavior. The sign of truly great parenting is the parent’s behavior”.