It’s not unusual to meet parents who say their child is well behaved in day care or preschool or while with relatives, but their behaviour is challenging at home.
‘They’re an angel when you’re not around’, or ‘When you’re not here they behave so much better!’ feels like a hurtful reflection on their parenting. And if the child can behave well for family and care providers, why can’t they behave the same way with their parents – the very people that love and care for them the most?
According to child psychologist and author of the Bonsai Child, Judith Locke, it’s not an uncommon scenario.
Dr Locke believes if a child is showing signs of difficult behaviour at home, that’s because parents may need to revisit routines, respect and behavioural expectations, as well as sufficient consequences.
“Daycare providers and teachers have very good systems in place because they’re in charge of managing the behaviour of 20 or more children. It’s important to note that while they care for the children and like them – they don’t actually love the children in the way that the child’s parents do,” Dr Locke says.
“So, because the child’s carers are not blinded by love, they won’t excuse the behaviour. From their point of view, they have a certain number of children to feed, so if one child says they don’t want to eat right now, or they refuse to sit down, they’re effectively messing up the system. Teachers and care providers need to get the child participating in a system of behaviour to make the day work for everybody.”
But it’s a different story at home where parents might simply back down if their child refuses to do what they’re told. For example, if a child refuses to eat when dinner is ready, a parent might quickly change plans to suit their child. Dr Locke says parents might find themselves backing down and telling the child that it’s okay if they eat a bit later.
“The parent can also provide a much more cognitive process to the situation. For example, they can ask, ‘Why doesn’t my child want to eat?’ In other words, all the love and care they have for their child excuses their behaviour. They’re able to cater to the sort of behavioural differences that the child is insisting on, on a daily basis.
“If the child says, ‘I don’t want to have a bath! I want to watch TV,’ then the parent might just let the child have his way. But for a child care provider, changing the schedule is impossible. The trouble is when kids don’t learn that in the home, then they’re consistently getting their own way or changing the routine.”
Establishing authority figures
Dr Locke believes parents need to establish themselves as an authority figure in the home –a loving parent that’s demanding of appropriate behaviour.
“It’s not about being authoritarian, it’s about showing love by insisting the child learns certain behavioural skills. If a parent allows a child to behave badly, over time, the parent will find the child very difficult to manage.
“It’s a good idea to set up systems so that your child isn’t defying you all the time and that means you can have a better relationship with them, instead of having to shout at them to do simple things, such as getting dressed, taking a bath or getting in the car.”