You're not imagining it — your child really does save their temper tantrums for you, but you probably know that already. What you may not know is why your child behaves the worst around their parents and differently when they're around others.
Child psychologist Dr. Heather Wittenberg explained to The Mother Company that the reason why kids behave the worst around the parents is quite simple. "Children save their best — and worst — for us, as parents," she said. She went on to explain that the reason kids are at their worst behavior when they're around their parents is because it's when they feel the most comfortable and are, as Wittenberg describes, their "true selves."
"It takes energy to “be good” and follow the rules — especially for young children — so when they get home, they let it all hang out," she explained, which can often result in poor behavior. If your child often acts out after being left at daycare or school, Wittenberg says not to worry because it's totally normal.
"You’re being punished for leaving them," she explained. "Sure, once they’re settled into daycare, they have fun. But deep down they miss you and are angry that you left. So, you get punished upon your return. Expect it and take it in stride. If you sympathize but don’t make a big deal out of it, it’s likely to subside more quickly."
Many parents often hear from their child's teacher or daycare provider what a great student their child is, yet they seem to save their meltdowns for the exact minute they're with their parents again. Wittenberg explains that this behavior is typical and gave some advice on how parents can deal with it. "After holding it together without us for all that time — a release is necessary. Expect it, don’t make a big deal about it, and don’t take it personally. Set limits if needed, but only if it’s going on a long time and/or it’s extreme."
She says that the best way to approach a meltdown, or impending meltdown is to be able to know it's coming. "It’s best to prevent it in the first place by expecting it, not taking it personally, taking it in stride if it happens, sympathizing, and then changing the subject to something more positive when they’re ready to let it go," the doctor explained. "Set limits if necessary, so they know they won’t be rewarded for extended freak-outs," Wittenberg says that obviously if the child is hurting themselves or others a parent needs to intervene immediately but suggests trying to avoid becoming emotional with the child.
While children reserve their worst behavior for their parents, the good news is they also give them their very best. No one gets the unconditional hugs and love as parents do, which almost makes the bad behavior tolerable! When you realize that children are acting out the worst around their parents because it's where they feel their most normal and comfortable, it makes complete sense and makes their bad behavior a bit more understandable.