The real reason your kids act worse for you than anyone else—and how to help

You must become the emotionally safe place for them to vent and process their emotions.

The real reason your kids act worse for you than anyone else—and how to help

“Michael is so cooperative in class,” or “Jenna is one of the most helpful and respectful kids who spends time at our house.”

You scratch your head. Wait. Are they really talking about your child? The same child who is moody, easily annoyed or downright rude to you?

It’s a common phenomenon that kids behave well for others and then it falls apart at home. Angel on the outside, demon at home. The saying is true—you always hurt the ones you love. (You’d think it would be the opposite, that love brings out our best. Alas, it’s often not the case.)


Think of it this way: children of all ages (and adults, too!) hold it together all day, at school, camp, lessons, a job, with friends and other family. The outside world has its own set of rules and expectations.

It’s also full of unknowns and natural consequences. The people ‘out there’ are not as loving and nurturing. They will not make excuses for your child and smooth the way. There can be an element of fear, and so, for the most part, children are on their best behavior.

Then they come home and it all breaks loose.

Home is the safe place, parents the safe people. They can let it all out because mom and dad, while they may get angry, will not reject or abandon them.

If they’re nasty to their friends, they may not have friends the next day. When they talk back to a teacher, there is an unpleasant price to pay.

Home is safe.

This is frustrating and worrisome for parents. You worry about their future and if they are emotionally prepared to be successful in the world. You want a little peace and quiet. You may compare them to other people with ‘easier’ kids. And then you wallow.

It’s okay to worry and to feel sorry for yourself—for a little while. Staying in that needy place, however, won’t change anything. It will actually make it worse, because inaction leaves you stuck and powerless.

Here’s the thing: you are not powerless!

You can influence your child’s behavior. Notice I said influence, not control. Trying to control someone else is like trying to change the orbit of the planets. It’s not going to happen. And the more you attempt to control, the more damage you do to your relationship with your child.

Trust is what you’re going for; everything else flows from there.

That being said, just because it’s normal for children to react this way, doesn’t mean you just wait it out. You are your child’s most important teacher about life, relationships and dealing with feelings.

Even though they protest, they are waiting for you to model for them how this is done, to provide a ‘container’ for dealing with their out-of-control feelings. The way you respond will impact the frequency and duration of their outbursts.

You must become the emotionally safe place for them to vent and process their emotions.

The best strategy I know of is acknowledging, also known as reflecting. This means that you:

  • Give your child an opportunity to purge those emotions
  • Respond in a way that shows understanding (although not necessarily agreement)
  • Avoid explaining, fixing, critiquing and problem-solving at that moment.

How do you acknowledge and reflect? Use your intuition, empathy and what you know about your child to reflect what you see and hear.

The following examples will help you craft your responses:

If your child says, ‘I hate you! You never let me do anything!’

* Old response “How can you say that? It’s not true. Look at everything I do for you.”

* New response “You sound really upset.” (You can follow up with “Is there something else going on that you want to tell me about?”)

If your child comes home and starts slamming doors or throwing things.

* Old response ‘We don’t slam doors/throw things in this house.’

* New response “Something very upsetting must have happened to make you so angry.”

You get the idea.

Name the emotion you see and hear. In this way you help your child become aware of her feelings and identify them. This helps her develop the ability to regulate herself (self-regulation), rather than being consumed by emotion and lashing out.

One more tip: ask what your child needs or wants from you.

This is not problem-solving; it’s trusting your child to know what will help him in that moment. We think we know better, and often it’s the child who intuits what will be most helpful.

Ask, “What do you need or want from me? A hug, to listen, to problem-solve, or to just leave you alone?” Do you see how respectful and empowering this is?

Eventually your child will have to do this for himself. Start him on this journey to self-awareness as soon as possible.

Will this eliminate negative feelings and behaviors? No, but it will reduce them and their impact.

Human beings are emotional beings. We will always have strong feelings and the urge to act on them. How long they last and what we do with them is up to us.

Acknowledging their feelings is what kids need from us. They want to know that intense emotions can pass without doing too much harm or being rejected; that it’s normal to have these feelings; and they have more power over their lives than they recognize.

When it comes to registering for baby products, there's one word we love: convertible.

In contrast to items you use for a short period of time, convertible (or multi-use) products are made to grow with your baby… and trust us, that makes them worth their weight in gold.

Convertible items allow you to reap the benefits of your baby registry for years to come—and that's just savvy shopping, mama. Also savvy shopping? Creating your baby registry with Target and enjoying their Year of Benefits registry program for expectant parents. Just by starting your registry, you will get a welcome kit with more than $100 in coupons and samples, two 15% off coupons to complete your registry, and a full year of returns. And Target's newest registry perk, the Year of Exclusive Deals, gives you discounts on essentials for your baby's whole first year when you sign up for Target Circle as well.

If you prioritize value and longevity when creating your registry, here are 10 items you'll love from day one through day 1,000… and beyond!

A crib that can grow through childhood + beyond

Simmons Kids Slumbertime Monterey 4-in-1 Convertible Crib

A crib is a necessity as you plan for life with your baby—you know that already. But what about in a couple of years when they need a toddler bed? Or a few years beyond that when they graduate to a bigger bed? Well, you're in luck: With the right attachments, this bed can be the only one they need until college.


A cozy blanket for snuggles + security

Plush Velboa Baby Blanket I Love You - Cloud Island\u2122 White/Black

Blankets have earned their spot on millions upon millions of registries for good reason: They function as stroller covers or play mats during the early days, then become beloved security items in the toddler years.


A comfy spot for feeding + stories

Baby Relax Addison Swivel Gliding Recliner

During your first months of motherhood, a comfortable gliding chair will be your second home as you spend time feeding and bonding. As your child grows (and mobility makes those snuggles harder to catch), you'll discover a new love for this cozy spot for stories and bedtime snuggles.


Sealy Cozy Rest Extra Firm Crib and Toddler Mattress

Fun fact: A standard crib and toddler bed actually use the same size mattress. That's why it's smart to get a quality crib mattress right out of the gate: One less thing to change up in a few years!


A changing table that doubles as a dresser

Simmons\u00ae Kids Monterey 4 Drawer Dresser with change top

If space is at a premium in your baby's nursery, look for a combination changing table and dresser. That way, you can keep using the dresser long after your little one is potty trained.


A car seat that converts to a booster

Safety 1st Grow and Go 3-in-1 Convertible Car Seat

The safest place for your child is in the backseat of your car, in either a car seat or (later) booster. But instead of buying a new seat for each phase, you can check off multiple boxes at once by adding a convertible car seat to your registry.


A stroller that accommodates big kids, too

Graco FastAction Jogger LX Stroller

The need for a good stroller doesn't end when your little one learns to walk, so look for a stroller that can accommodate bigger kids, too. We recommend a jogging stroller that allows you to attach an infant car seat and is still perfectly spacious for toddlers.


A place to dine for years to come

Ingenuity SmartClean Trio Elite 3-in-1 High Chair - Slate

From first bites to family dinners around the table, one single high chair can be the solution you need. That is, if you look for a version that adapts into a booster seat when your child is ready for a plate at the table.


A white noise machine + alarm clock in one

Hatch Rest Sound Machine, Night Light & Time-to-Rise

After spending months listening to ambient noise in the womb, white noise remains incredibly comforting for your child. It's nice to have a sound machine that can transition to a time-to-rise clock down the line. By cueing with sounds and colors, these clocks reinforce healthy sleep habits.


A baby carrier that can haul a toddler, too

Infantino Flip 4-in-1 Convertible Carrier

A carrier is a major help when your baby loves being held, but you need use of your hands. But even months or years down the line, you can still get use out of that carrier. To maximize longevity, look for one that can be used with your child facing outward or even carried on your back as they grow.


Enjoy building your registry with Target, mama! The Year of Benefits is calling your name with a Year of Exclusive Deals available via Target Circle, two 15% off coupons, a year of hassle-free returns, a free welcome kit and more! 😉

This article was sponsored by Target. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

Our Partners

There is rightfully a lot of emphasis on preparing for the arrival of a new baby. The clothes! The nursery furniture! The gear! But, the thing about a baby registry is, well, your kids will keep on growing. Before you know it, they'll have new needs—and you'll probably have to foot the bill for the products yourself.

Thankfully, you don't have to break the bank when shopping for toddler products. Here are our favorite high-quality, budget-friendly finds to help with everything from meal time to bath time for the toddler set.

Comforts Fruit Crisps Variety Pack

Comforts fruit snacks

If there is one thing to know about toddlers, it is this: They love snacks. Keeping a variety on hand is easy when the pack already comes that way! Plus, we sure do appreciate that freeze-dried fruit is a healthier alternative to fruit snacks.

Comforts Electrolyte Drink

Comforts electrolyte drink

Between running (or toddling!) around all day and potentially developing a pickier palate, many toddlers can use a bit of extra help with replenishing their electrolytes—especially after they've experienced a tummy bug. We suggest keeping an electrolyte drink on hand.

Comforts Training Pants

Comforts training pants

When the time comes to start potty training, it sure helps to have some training pants on hand. If they didn't make it to the potty in time, these can help them learn their body's cues.

Comforts Nite Pants

comforts nite pants

Even when your toddler gets the hang of using the toilet during the day, nighttime training typically takes several months longer than day-time training. In the meantime, nite pants will still help them feel like the growing, big kid they are.

Comforts Baby Lotion

comforts baby lotion

Running, jumping, playing in sand, splashing in water—the daily life of a toddler can definitely irritate their skin! Help put a protective barrier between their delicate skin and the things they come into contact with every day with nourishing lotion.

Another great tip? Shopping the Comforts line on to find premium baby products for a fraction of competitors' prices—and follow along on social media to see product releases and news at @comfortsforbaby.

This article was sponsored by The Kroger Co. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

Our Partners

Becoming a mother has been life-changing. It's been hard, tiring, gratifying, beautiful, challenging, scary and a thousand other things that only a parent would ever understand.

It is these life-changing experiences that have inspired me to draw my everyday life as a stay at home mom. Whether it's the mundane tasks like doing laundry or the exciting moments of James', my baby boy's, first steps, I want to put it down on paper so that I can better cherish these fleeting moments that are often overlooked.

Being a stay-at-home-mom can be incredibly lonely. I like to think that by drawing life's simple moments, I can connect with other mothers and help them feel less alone. By doing this, I feel less alone, too. It's a win-win situation and I have been able to connect with many lovely parents and fellow parent-illustrators through my Instagram account.

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