Why are some kids horrors at home?

It's an age-old story. Your child is a little angel at school: kind, polite, helpful and caring towards his teacher and other kids. But at home it's a different story - tantrums, not doing what he's told and fights with siblings.

Why are some children better behaved outside the home? Why are they more likely to listen to adults who aren't their parents?

The answer is surprising - the probable cause for your child being well-behaved at nursery, but less so at home, is that home is where children feel most relaxed.

“Kids have to behave a certain way at nursery or school, but at home they can run around, shout, scream and play,” says parenting expert and agony aunt Suzie Hayman. “It’s normal for a child to let off steam at home, where they feel comfortable and unconditionally loved.”

Freedom of expression

Another reason could be that what parents perceive as bad behaviour is just the child’s way of expressing his or her needs. So set aside at least half an hour daily to spend with each child, reading a book together or playing their favourite game. “When a child has its need for one-to-one time satisfied, they may not need more attention in a bad way,” Suzie says. "In other words, if you make time just for them, their behaviour will improve."

Good cop, bad cop

In the last century, Dad was the strict disciplinarian, or bad cop. “Wait until your father comes home,” mothers would warn, and children would do just that. But times have changed, with current wisdom stipulating that both parents need to be equally involved in family life and discipline.

“Children once thought fathers were the punishers. But that not only robs a dad of being the nice parent to have fun with, it also puts him in a position of not having a fully-rounded relationship with his own kid,” says Suzie. “Children need to learn that the same person can say yes and no, that they can love someone even if they are doing things that person doesn’t like.”

The problem is that many parents get into the habit of only paying attention to their children when they are noisy and naughty, and ignoring them when they are nice and quiet. “Both of you should be the good and the bad cop, the people who have fun with your children but when necessary draw the boundaries,” Suzie adds. “And if you spend time with your children having fun, rather than just trying to bend them to your will, you’ll find you’ll get less bad behaviour from the start.”

Related links

  • Put a Stop to Whining: Every parent suffers through it: The loud, obnoxious, pull-your-hair-out whining of a child who wants his or her way, now.
  • Boy vs Girl - Discipline Differences:  Whether you favour a nature or nurture philosophy when it comes to raising your kids, there’s little doubt that boys and girls are different – and you can use those differences to your advantage when it comes to bad behaviour.
  • Calming your kids: how do you tame a wild child? It’s common for young children to express themselves physically when they don’t have enough words to say what they want or need. But there are some things you can do to ease their aggression.

Related Advice