Why does my child behave better for others than he does for me?

Babysitters, grandparents, child care workers, kindergarten teachers and school teachers all tell you your child is well behaved, well-mannered, helpful and polite. Not a behavioural, emotional or social concern in sight. You feel proud of your child and of yourself for doing such an awesome job as a parent (and so you should!!), until you are in the car, or arrive home, and your child has an emotional meltdown, is defiant or just won’t listen! Why does he behave all day for others and not me?! Why can he do as his teacher expects to him to all day, but can’t listen to me for 10 seconds?! Why is he so polite and kind to his class mates but teases his little sister the whole way home until she cries?! The good news: It’s entirely typical for a child to behave for others better than they behave for their own parents. Frustrating, but normal. Here’s why…

They know your love is unconditional
They will hug us and tell us they love us, and also scream and tell us they don’t like us anymore. They love us more than anyone else in the world and they know our love for them is unconditional. ie. We will not love them any less if they refuse to unpack their school bag, and they know this!

You are their safe people
As parents we get the best and worst of our children. We get them and all of their raw, stripped down, uninhibited emotions and behaviours. They are completely themselves at all times. They do not try to be a different version of themselves.
Our children know it is safe to express raw emotion, explore new things, push boundaries and test new waters. They feel safe to do so knowing that we, as their parents, will guide them and protect them (no matter how much they protest!).

They are tired
Children tend to push boundaries and test new waters more so when they are tired. They may have had a late night or because they have been at school all day and have focused, engaged, socialised, played, learnt, etc., for at least 6 hours. They have held it all together for all that time and believe it or not, that is hard work for kids. And of course, by the end of the term, they are even more tired and desperately need a break from school (and so do we!).

All of this behaviour, best and worst, is reserved for us; their parents, their safe people, who love them unconditionally. So in other words, it is actually a “compliment” if your child ‘misbehaves’ for you, but ‘behaves’ for everyone else. They feel safe and know you will love and protect them no matter what… And after all, isn’t that exactly how we hope they feel about us.

If you are concerned about your child’s behaviour you may wish to seek further help. At Attuned Psychology we have child psychologists to assist with behaviour management, parenting and family relationships. We work with you and your child to develop a plan and therapy goals to ensure the best outcome for your child and your family.

Rachel Ielasi,



*This article is not specific to boy’s behaviour only

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