Advice Column, Parenting

Kids Behaving Badly When Mom’s In Charge

  • Bill Corbett
  • Category Advice Column, Parenting

First of all, it’s not just moms. It seems to be whoever the female primary caregiver is; grandmothers, stepmoms, foster moms, adoptive moms and others. Believe it or not, when you learn what causes this, you may feel delighted that it happens to you.

Here’s a typical scenario; the kids are home with mom and she begins finding it difficult to get their cooperation. Meltdowns are occurring and someone’s having a fit. Suddenly, dad arrives and the mood of the kids changes instantly. They run to greet him at the door and seem delighted to see him. He even gives them some instructions and they seem to comply.

Immediately, his wife feels resentful that they are suddenly behaving completely different than they were just moments before he walked into the house. The meltdowns have subsided and the tantrums have disappeared. She may even be feeling angry toward him for suddenly getting smiles, laughter and cooperation.

I’ve even witnessed this transition in reverse. The setting is the preschool classroom in which the child is playing contently or cooperating with the teacher. Then, mom arrives to pick up her child from school and the child runs to greet mom. She’s distracted on her cell phone or begins conversing with the teachers, and in an instant, the child throws himself down on the floor and a tantrum begins.

The mystery around this behavior change has to do with the effect the mother, or the primary female caregiver, has on her child at the moment. Her presence creates an atmosphere of comfort and safety that is conducive to the child revealing the true emotions they may be feeling at the moment. In other words, the child feels safe enough to share what they are feeling deep inside.

Unfortunately, few moms know this and mistakenly take the child’s actions, words or behaviors personal. She then gets sucked into the emotions the child is feeling and soon power struggles and arguments get triggered as she attempts to get her needs met in the moment.

An important solution to this frustrating problem was offered in the famous book by author and speaker Stephen R. Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, and then later, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Families. The 5th habit is to seek first to understand, then be understood. In other words, if you desire cooperation from your child in a moment when it appears you’re not going to get it, take the time to see the moment from the child’s perspective. Through your own silence, observation and open ended questions, determine what your child needs in the moment and satisfy them.

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