Behavior at School vs. Behavior at Home: What’s Normal?

Many parents witness a transformation of some form when their children begin to go to school. For many children, school is the first place outside of the home and they really begin to learn how to act when their parents are not around. Children learn that certain behaviors are expected in different environments. Some kids have difficulty adjusting whereas other kids transition seamlessly. Regardless, it is important that parents pay attention to their child’s behavior in order to see whether it is healthy or whether there is a concern that needs addressing.

An Angel at School but Acting Out at Home

Misbehaving at Home

As frustrating as it can be for some parents, hearing that your child is well-behaved at school despite acting out at home is actually good news. Some parents may be surprised and wonder why there is a difference in their child’s behavior between these two spaces. For many kids, school is an unfamiliar environment. This applies to children who are just starting school, but it also applies to children who are older as well – every year they are placed in a new classroom, with new classmates and a new teacher. School follows a schedule and has structure, and teachers and faculty are unfamiliar adults that they are told should be listened to. If you are a parent of a child who acts well at school but acts out at home, you may wonder whether this means that your children does not like or respect you – but this is absolutely not the case.

Since kids are in an unfamiliar environment, they are more likely to follow the rules and do as they are told. They are learning how to operate in the world as individuals so their time at school becomes a learning process. At home, children are comfortable and they already know that they are loved and appreciated by you, their parents. When kids act out at home, they are learning as well. Since kids are more comfortable at home, they feel more at ease when it comes to testing limits and pushing boundaries, which is actually a very good sign (really??? you say!!) in terms of their personal development.  However, setting boundaries at home is very important because children can get out of control in the home setting.  Rewarding them for good behavior and reprimanding for bad behavior (in love) is crucial when setting house rules.

Misbehaving at School

Acting Out at School but Agreeable at Home
It is usually when the tables are turned that parents need to do some investigating. For some children, their school or classroom may simply not be a good fit for them. Some parents have been told by teachers that their children cannot or will not sit still, but for many kids this sort of restlessness, especially after extended periods of time, is extremely normal for their age group. Some behavioral issues have simple fixes and finding alternatives can provide you with the solution that you need.

In other cases, however, children who act out severely at school are advised to seek therapy along with their parents as it may be the sign of another issue. A specialist can help you get to the bottom of the problem and teach you how to address it in a healthy way that benefits you and your child.

One thing to always remember is that if there are any issues with the child seeking help early in the process is always beneficial, and most behaviors are temporary and kids will get over it and so will you.  It’s just going through the process that makes this difficult, but this too shall pass.

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What to Do When Your Child Refuses to Go to School

Refusal to go to school

It can be difficult dealing with a child that just does not want to go to school. Change in routine, atmosphere and the people around them can be disconcerting and scary for them to handle all at once. This sort of big change can be scary for them and they can see the act of going to school as a negative thing. They may call school boring, saying that they don’t like their teachers, or that they don’t like the other children in class simply because its all new to them. The problem usually starts at the start of a new year for example making the transition to a new school.  An illness or the loss of a family member may also set off school refusal.  The goal is to find out why the refusal is happening to the child. Just how many children are affected is still unclear with estimates varying from 5% to 28%.  According to the Anxiety Disorders Association of America, this problem usually occurs in children ages 5 to 6, and again between the ages of 10 and 11.

If you are having a hard time convincing your kids to give school a try, there are some ways to do so without driving yourself crazy.

When children refuse to go to school

Presenting your child with a personalized book on the subject can easily help ease them into approaching the subject as well as encouraging them to give school a chance. “School is Fun” is a personalized story from KD Novelties that places your child in school and has them solving a mystery with their new classmates. Showing kids that school does not have to be boring or scary can help them get excited to go to school for real. Personalized books for kids on a subject that they are trying to deal with in real life has shown to help motivate kids and instill them with the confidence they need to overcome their obstacles. For instance, studies have shown that presenting a child with a book on potty training while they are learning to do so can help motivate them to keep trying and inspires them to solve their problems on their own.

 Another option is to set up a goal and reward system. If they do not wish to go to school because it is new and they have not gone yet, it can be difficult to convince them to just give it a try, but by giving them a goal and promising a reward or a treat, they might be more willing to give it a try. With this sort of incentive, kids are more likely to be willing to give school a try and be on their best behavior. During this time period, they may even grow so accustomed to school as a routine, especially after a week or two, that they may not need another incentive.

Lastly if the reward system does not work reach out to professionals for help.  Treatment providers working with kids who have school refusal will often use cognitive behavioral therapy, which helps kids learn to manage their anxious thoughts and face their fears. With therapy kids can get the chance to see that they can attend school without anxiety or fear.