Grandparents, you know that moment when your kids drop off the grandchildren for a couple of hours or even a whole day, and you all have the time of your lives? The kids are behaving, they play nicely, and you even manage to put them to bed without any fuss. And then, when their parents come and pick them up, there's an expression of both shock and relief on their faces when you tell them their children have been angelic.
Always the same question - "Mom, Dad, how do you manage that? They're never this well-behaved with me," If only for a moment you think your children are not good parents, or perhaps, that they're not strict enough, let us assure you that is not the case. There's actual science behind the reason why children misbehave the most when they're around their parents, and particularly their mother.
They Feel the Safest Around Mom
We've researched many resources on this interesting topic. Everywhere we looked, one reason for children's bad behavior was agreed upon unanimously: the kids feel safest around mom. Therefore, they let loose the most near her. Annie Gurton, a psychological and relationship therapist in Australia who spoke to the Healthy Mommy, states that no one, not even dad, can offer the same feeling of safety mom can. That is not to say other parents or caretakers impose a threatening feeling on the child, but no love compares to that of the mother.
The experts at Motherly agree. Children bottle up everything during the day, just as you do at work. Think back on your day at work: you do your tasks efficiently and behave pleasantly, only to come back home and vent about Barbara from accounting to your spouse. "They can let it all out because mom and dad, while they may get angry, will not reject or abandon them."
Reader's Digest has spoken to Dr. Claudia Luiz, PsyD, and she reveals a different perspective on little children's bad behaviors. "When children allow themselves to behave badly, they’re also allowing themselves to be vulnerable, and we should make room for that because it encourages closeness, security, and strength." This is true for children, not teens.
There May be Competition for Attention
Several other experts mentioned that there may be an additional cause for children's misbehavior around their mothers. They may be competing for your attention. This can happen even if your child has no siblings to compete with. The other contestants in the competition for mother's attention are her work, her private life, and even the time she takes alone for herself.
Another reason for misbehaving may be the classic search to stretch the boundaries. Annie Gurton claims that “kids feel really uncomfortable and deep down feel unsafe when there are no boundaries." She adds that they " will push and push until they find one.”
Pediatrician Steve Silvestro gives an interesting angle as to why kids want to test our boundaries: it's our own lack of consistency as parents. He gives the classroom as an example. At school, there are strict protocols on how to deal with mischief. For instance, the first time the teacher calls you out has no consequences, but the second or third time will end at the principal's office. This protocol is known to all children since day one - no exceptions.
But at home, keeping this kind of strict consistency is hard. We're either tired, treat some behaviors more gravely than others, or there's simply no strict established system, such as the principal's office. When you take what we learned in the first section into account, the kids know that even if their parents are upset, yelling, or even giving punishment, they will never abandon them and will never stop loving them. If they're rude to friends, for instance, they may simply leave. Parents would never leave.
What Can be Done?
In her conversation with the Healthy Mommy, Annie Gurton said "getting the kids to behave better depends on their age." What does this mean? For little children, it means introducing responsibilities as soon as possible. These can be putting away their own dish after the meal or picking up the toys and putting them back into the basket before bedtime. This helps children with a sense of purpose and aids in creating the notion that a mother is not a servant. It also communicates to the little ones that domestic efforts are a team concern.
For teens, you should establish your boundaries and their limits simultaneously, but don't think this means putting them on a leash. You're not trying to control them! Now that they're maturing, you can negotiate their chores and agree upon them together. Teens need responsibilities because that's the way they know you can trust them. These aren't chores for the sake of chores, or control. They simply have a part in the daily functioning of the home.
Motherly's experts agree. At any age, they suggest you try to gain your children's trust and not control over them. As challenging as it may be, your children need you to let them purge their emotions after they held it all in for prolonged periods of time. To do so successfully, Motherly's experts give these two tips:
- Show understanding, even if not necessarily agreement. Express empathy.
- During heated moments, avoid "explaining, fixing, critiquing, and problem-solving."
Useful as ever, they even provide two examples of common phrases your teenager can shoot at you, and how to respond in a way that will benefit both parties. Click here to read how to deal with the dreaded "I hate you!"
Lastly, Motherly equips you with a rule of thumb: name the emotion you see and ask them what they need from you. Let us explain. As early as kindergarten age, we learn how to name our feelings. That is not an inherent human ability. Some adults spend years in therapy learning how to process their emotions. As for the "ask them what do they need from you" part, there can be an array of responses you can give. Maybe they don't want a hug, maybe they just need you to listen. Maybe they don't want comforting words and empathy and want you to help with a practical solution. Listen to them, then act.