Why Do Kids Seem to Behave Their Best Everywhere But Home?

You're not imagining it. The kids really are on their best behavior everywhere but at home. Here's why and how to improve their at-home attitudes.

Have you ever received an overly positive comment from your child’s teacher, then thought or even said out loud, “Are you sure you are talking about my child?”

According to child behavior experts, it’s not uncommon for kids to act differently at home and school.

Dr. Arthur Lavin, chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Psychosocial Aspects of Child and Family Health, acknowledges that while kids are very different people in different places, they aren’t the only ones. Adults do it, too.

Around 15 to 18 months of age, he says, kids begin to understand they are in “public view,” which is different from the privacy of home. At this time, they begin interacting with the world as a “self,” he says.

“Kids know that when they are home, they are safe and loved, no matter what they do,” he says. “But in public, we expect a certain level of courtesy and decorum. Kids don’t know what will happen if they break these rules. But they do know there is an agenda at home, which is why they often push the authority figures to the brink with full understanding they are safe no matter what they do.”

Consequences differ everywhere

Lavin says that while there may be differing consequences for poor behavior at home and at school, the bigger issue for kids is difference in structure.

“Kids know structures down pat,” he says. “They know where they are going and what consequences are. It is very mapped out for them — a note home, a chat with an administrator, detention,” he says.

“We know that in a really strong structured environment, kids perform at their best.”

How to improve behavior at home

Dr. Jerry Bubrick, senior psychologist at the Child Mind Institute Anxiety Disorder Center, says that instead of asking why their child is better behaved at school, parents should reframe the question to see how they can make their home environment more similar to school to get equal behavior in both places.

His best suggestions include:

1. Providing an itinerary

Bubrick notes it doesn’t need to be a play by play, but suggests trying this by planning out the weekend schedule together, considering things like waking up, eating meals, doing activities and going to bed. “When kids are actively involved in creating structure, they are more likely to follow through on tasks.”

2. Praising kids for effort

Simply put, Bubrick says that when parents praise their child for trying, the child will be much more motivated (and have less pressure on them) to follow through with a task.

3. Controlling our own emotions

It is important to be neutral and present with our kids. “They are sponges and they absorb everything,” he says. “Kids will pick up on the vibe and match it. ”

4. Setting – and following through with – consequences

Instead of creating consequences on the fly, Bubrick suggests planning in advance as a family the consequences for bad behavior. “When you make an emotional decision, you’ll regret and over punish. It will lower your credibility with kids,” Bubrick says.

5. Not worrying so much

Instead of dwelling on the fact that the behavior may change from home to school, parents should take comfort in knowing their kids are well behaved somewhere else. “When kids are well behaved somewhere else, it means they know rules and etiquette and how to follow it.”


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