Why parents and teachers don’t always see the same thing

Meet “Ava.” She’s 2 years old. She has difficulty transitioning at home. Everything her parents ask her to do she resists. Get dressed? Nope. Put her on shoes? No way. Clean up her toys? Game over. Her teachers don’t see any of this behavior at school. They describe her as extremely compliant and their best helper. Her parents wonder if they are talking about the same child.

Meet “David.” He’s 2.5 years old. His parents are struggling with toileting at home. He resists opportunities to sit on the potty and has frequent accidents. His teacher reports no issues. He goes easily to the potty and always keeps his underwear dry at school.

Meet “Mary.” She is 4. She bursts into tears as soon as she gets into the car after school. She’s short tempered all afternoon culminating in major meltdowns before bed. Her teacher reports her to be calm and quiet all day long. She describes her as emotionally stable and happy at school.

Does any of this sound familiar? Have you ever listened to your child’s teacher talk about your child and sincerely believe they have him confused with another? Why is it that our children can be completely different at home than at school and what can we do about it? Bewildered parents, rejoice! There is rationality behind the seemingly irrational. Our children aren’t purposely trying to turn our worlds upside down. In fact, they are struggling to understand it as much as we are.

Most of our children act differently at home in some way, shape, or form. The first reason for this is that home and their parents are a safe place. Because you are doing such a good job as a parent you win…..a meltdown! However, it truly is a compliment in the best form. Your child may be trying to tell you, in no uncertain terms “Today was hard.” “I’m tired.” “I missed you.” A big release of emotions indicates your child feels safe and loved enough to let it all go.

Speaking of emotions, our children have A LOT to process over the course of the day. They are navigating peer relationships, transferring attachments to adults, understanding directions and tone of voice, observing social situations, experiencing consequences, and so much more. All of that can accumulate throughout the day without a lot of opportunities to process or explore what they see and feel. Hence, the difference in behavior at home. Negative behavior at home sometimes can be a response to processing or decomposing an interaction they witnessed or an event they didn’t understand that happened hours ago at school.

Finally, the power of peer pressure is legit. Whether it’s 10 other 2 year olds who sit on the potty or take a nap when told or 22 kindergartners who complete assignments according to the directions of their teacher, this is not something we can even come close to competing with at home. I can honestly tell you that potty training almost a hundred 2 year olds during my days as an early childhood teacher paled in comparison to potty training my own. It’s a completely different environment, and in a lot of ways it will “win” every time.

So what do we do? We celebrate their joys! We have empathy for the fatigue and confusion our kids face on a daily basis and we exercise compassion when they process it at home. We remain firm and kind in our parenting approach. We keep limits and routines consistent and expectations (appropriately) high. We do our best. We mess up. We forgive. And then we start all over again.

Find the joy,


Jessica McCauley, M.Ed. is a parenting coach/consultant. She draws on her background as a Montessori educator and Child Life Specialist to help families navigate the challenges of the early childhood years. Contact Jessica at http://smallhandsbigsteps.com/contact/ for more information or to schedule a consultation.