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Why Do My Kids Only Behave for Other People?

Updated on November 7, 2015

My Sister's Children

My son and I live in a blended household with my sister's family. They have three children. Now don't get me wrong, I love these kids very much but it has to be said: these children appear to be the spawn of demons. That is, when my sister is home. For me they are completely different kids.

I really don't know how she puts up with it. These kid's yell and scream and run through the house leaving in their wake conditions that would overwhelm FEMA. When they get home from school, they leave a trail of backpacks, coats, shoes, etc., from the door to the refrigerator. Taking them anywhere is nearly impossible. I have actually seen her two younger children climb into a diaper display at WalMart. And when she tells them to do something, their favorite thing to say is "No, I'm gonna..." They don't seem to have any respect for her at all until she starts to lose her patience; then they fall in line. Unfortunately for her, my sister has the patience of a saint.

The funny thing is they are great when she's not there. At school, they are angels. And when I babysit for her they are nearly perfect. They do their running and screaming outside, they do what thay are told (for the most part, they are still kids :), and rather than spreading their messes across the house, they have on multiple occasions actually cleaned the house for me.

My Son

I know these children are not unique. My son is the same way. He is almost two, and every bit of terrible. He bites (mostly just me), he throws himself down and screams like I'm beating him whenever I say no, and when I try to put him to bed he kicks, and punches and pulls my hair. I have to flip him back over a minimum of six times per diaper changing, and the other day it took me nearly five minutes of wrestling to get him dressed.

Just like my sister's kids, my son is different for other people. When he is at daycare, my son actually lies down on a mat and goes to sleep without a fight of any kind. He just lays there and gets his diaper changed for anyone who isn't me, and the same goes for getting dressed. His babysitter has never even seen him bite.

At the Heart of it All

So why is it that our children seem to have different standards of behavior when they are under the care of someone else? I have a theory that they only act up like this because they trust us.

All children have a deep innate need to be loved and accepted. When they are with other people, they are on their best behavior because they want to be liked. They don't want to do anything to jeopardize that. They are only able to explore and test their boundaries as they learn to trust that even when they mess up, we are going to love them and be there for them. So, the more they trust us, the more they are free to misbehave.

Sometimes it is really hard to deal with my son. He's 60% angel, 40% devil, and 100% pure boy. I have to have a sense of humor about it, or he'll make me crazy. It helps to remember, though, that each time he bungee jumps off the couch using my hair as a tether, or checks to see if I am looking before he climbs up the window sill or puts something in the fan, that he is only able to do it because he has no doubt that I love him, and that if something happens, I will be there to fix it.

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