Parenting Help: My Kid Behaves Better at School Than at Home

Today, I am answering a question from a reader that many parents face. Your child behaves great at school, but when at home, they turn into a different child. Do you struggle with this? Here’s Lori’s question:

I have three children, ages 11, 8 and 6.  The middle child, a boy, is about to drive me crazy with his defiance and complete lack of respect (which is rubbing off onto the siblings now).  He is well behaved at school and makes good grades.  However, he turns into a little Tasmanian devil the minute he walks in the door.   I’m at my wits end and need help to tame this child.  How do I get him to be respectful and cooperative at home like he is at school?  I’m about willing to do anything at this point. HELP!!

Lori, in PA

Lori, there is a lot of good news in your question.

  • Your son knows how to be respectful and cooperative
  • Your other two children are already listening well at home
  • Your son has a great deal of energy
  • You are willing to try a new system

I have four suggestions for you.

  1. Let him go a little crazy after school!

Eight-year-olds often have a lot of energy that has no good outlet in a 3rd grade classroom. Likely a large part of his difficulty is due to how hard he’s trying to behave well at school. That “Tasmanian devil” that you describe when he gets home is completely understandable.  Don’t fight it! Give him space to run, jump, wrestle (if a sibling is willing), and play hard for at least half an hour. Then feed him. THEN you can ask him to focus on homework and chores and being a great listener.

  1. Ask him for concerns and suggestions.

Your son has probably noticed that you don’t appreciate his behavior at home. You’ve already tried some things to improve it, after all. So ask him first what is bothering him. Ask about feelings, difficulties, observations. Then ask follow up questions.

  • Is it easier to listen to the grown-ups at school or at home? Why?
  • What feelings make it easier to cooperate? Which ones make it harder?
  • What makes you want to be respectful?

Then ask him what ideas he has for improving your relationship and his behavior. Ask what benefits there are to a family that speaks kindly. Lastly, ask what the consequences should be if someone is disrespectful. He may not have any suggestions. However, asking him (without anger) about his opinions shows your respect for him, and builds his resilience by including him in the process of finding a solution.

  1. Separate respect rules from other rules.

When I ask one of my kids to do something and he talks back, he gets in trouble. The problem is, it can be confusing for him – and really frustrating for me! – to decipher what punishment is because he didn’t clear off the table and what is because he mouthed off about it. However much I want the table cleaned off, the bigger point I want to make is that he may not speak disrespectfully. So I need to make a clear separation.

  1. Try not to take it personally.

Identify the smaller consequence for not doing what he was asked to do. Then make a bigger point, and consequence, for the argument. Go back to the consequences you discussed, and enforce them. It is hard to be consistent without being angry, but it will make your point much faster.  It is possible to have empathy for his feelings while still requiring respect.

Parents, what has worked for you when your child listens well at school but doesn’t want to do the same at home?

Do you have any important parenting related questions? Type your question into the box on AskDoctorG.com. Also, be sure to follow me on TwitterFacebook and subscribe to my YouTube channel where I address parenting challenges from teen dating to manners.

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