Why Kids Behave Worse Around Their Parents

How many of us have heard a sitter or family member remark, “Tommy was an absolute angel today!” and sat and wondered if they were talking about the same kid—your Tommy. One of the biggest questions we may ask ourselves as parents is why is my toddler acting out around me way more than they do around everyone else? It can feel like you are doing something wrong and the second you step into a room it’s as if you’ve given them an invitation to act up. So, why does a child misbehave?


Reasons a Child Misbehaves


Behaviors always have a function—something that causes the unwanted behavior to occur. Recognizing the cause of a behavior can help you prevent it from happening again or guide you to handling it better.



A toddler acting out or a child misbehaving to create a scene is usually seeking attention. When extreme behavior gets your attention, whether positive or negative, you’ve still helped the child accomplish their goal.  This behavior can be exhausting for parents, and we know it’s extremely difficult to ignore.


Lack of Consistency

A child misbehaving may be a sign that the lack of consistency coming from their parents makes it harder for them to distinguish good versus bad behavior. A toddler acting out may learn to adjust to a new daycare and stop acting out once there is consistency in their day-to-day schedule while still acting out at home.



A child constantly expresses their emotions and learns to control them throughout their entire lifetime. It is not always easy, especially for younger children. For example, a toddler acting out may be trying to express themselves but don’t know the right words to convey their feelings, so they yell or scream.


Though a toddler acting out can be challenging for a parent to navigate, knowing what could help turns a stressful situation into a manageable one.


A child may even learn to control their emotions and express them at daycare but not be able to do the same at home. Though this can be stressful as the parent, the child misbehaving knows that they can act out at home since it is their safe place.



If a child misbehaves in class, there are consequences no matter what, many that can affect the days following. When a toddler acts out and is mean toward his friends, he may not have a friend to play with the next time.


While mom & dad may not be pleased with the behavior they are seeing, they won’t reject or abandon their child, and their child knows this. Therefore, the child tends to save their misbehaving for their safe space, which is with their parents at home.


Safety is the number one reason a child misbehaves more for their parents than anyone else.  Creating that type of safe environment for your child, while exhausting, is also a great feeling. As a parent, you have created a place where your child is completely comfortable being themselves, whether it’s good or bad.


It can be difficult not to blame yourself when your child acts out, no matter the situation. Other parents may even weigh in on the situation, making you feel even worse about your child misbehaving. Knowing how to navigate a backseat parent who constantly wants to tell you how to parent your child will put your mind at ease and you won’t even stress when you hear their comments.


Ways to Help your Child Behave Better Around You


Parenting will always come with some level of stress and guilt. When your child constantly misbehaves for you but seems to act as an angel or at least significantly better for others, it can be challenging and cause a lot of parent guilt. However, if you are constantly working to ensure your child is respectful and well behaved, you have succeeded.


Establish Routine & Create Schedules


The Administration for Children & Families explains that toddlers often thrive on a schedule or routine that offers consistency. It is important to have consistent structure in your home. The more you can stick to your routine, the easier it is for your child to know what to expect throughout their day. While there will still be moments when your child misbehaves, this is a great way to help keep them to a minimum.


Reward the Behavior You Want to Increase

If a parent rewards a child for their behavior or gives in to what the child wants after they misbehave, it reinforces their desire to act out. If a child misbehaving gets met by you telling them “No” three times but then ultimately giving in to what he or she wants, it is likely you’ll find your toddler acting out again when they want something.


The toddler has now learned that their misbehavior will get the same results as the good behavior. It is easier for the child to throw a fit than it is for them to be on their best behavior for the entire day. Focusing on how and when you reward your child’s behavior will define how your child acts when they are looking to gain something specific.


Ways to combat this include a consistent punishment and reward system that is easy to follow. If you continue to be consistent throughout with your child, they will realize that no matter how they behave, they must stick with the system put in place instead of defying and still getting their way.


There is no perfect system to make sure sweet little Tommy acts like an angel at home just as he does in school but knowing how to make things easier for both of you helps immensely.


A toddler acting out at home are completely normal but understanding the reasons for them will help you remain patient and find solutions that work for your family. Please focus on the fact that your child feels safe and happy around you and that no matter how the child misbehaves, they trust you enough to be able to let go of all their feelings.


You are doing all the right things, even if it doesn’t feel like It. Knowing that you are setting boundaries for your child, working on your consistency, and even creating a safe environment will help your child thrive.