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Home vs School: Diving into Your Child’s Behavior

The fall season is arguably the busiest time of year for families across the country. Festive events are happening every weekend on top of sports matches and other school functions. Not to mention, your child has probably just now settled into their everyday school routine. Now, here comes the breaks and holidays just in time to disrupt your (almost) perfect harmony.

These busy, stressful times may have you noticing a behavior difference in your son or daughter. Maybe they’re having a rough time in school, whether it be failing to focus or they can’t stop playing around with their friends. As a result, you may also notice a more positive difference in how they act at home.

On the other hand, your child could absolutely love school. They could love it so much that they don’t even want to return home, causing them to act out once they get there. Don’t worry, you’re not alone. A lot of parents have difficulty coming to terms with this idea and may even think it’s their fault.

Luckily, Lauren Kerstein, who is a Colorado-based children’s book author, psychotherapist, public speaker, mother, and more, is here to put your minds at ease and offer helpful tips on how to cope with and give reasoning behind your child’s always-evolving and developing mindset.

What’s Going On?
First off, you might be wondering: why? Why is my child so angelic for their teachers but not for me? Or, my child is an absolute angel for me! Why are they different once their teachers
come around?

There are many different triggers for these types of reactions in children. A huge one we see in academic areas is the social component.

“I think often we underestimate the value of a trusting relationship at home,” says Kerstein. “At home, when you really trust your caregiver, you may act out more, because it’s safe.”

Kerstein says at school, children may still trust their caregivers or teachers, but it’s a whole different level of trust. Kids are smart; they recognize that the consequences are very different for acting out at home versus at school. Therefore they recognize the social component at school, and they just want to make their teachers happy. At home, it’s a safer place to let out all the negative feelings and energy.

Breaking It Down
Sensory also plays a huge role in how children learn and behave. To make things simple, Kerstein breaks this idea down by sorting children into two possible categories: hyporeactive and hyperreactive.

For those who are hyporeactive, “if there’s a lot of sensory stimulation at school, they may shut down and look like they’re well-behaved, but in actuality, they’re just shutting down,” says Kerstein.

On the other hand, kids who are hyperreactive will often overly react to sensory stimuli, so we may see them really struggle at school. Whereas at home, sensory stimulation is more manageable.

This is where the idea of behavioral troubles kicks in, but to Kerstein, “what the kids are really trying to do is reground themselves.”

As for other explanations, things like anxiety, depression, and physical or mental health issues can also play a key role in children’s behavioral tendencies. Some triggers may even surprise parents: allergies, change of season, time of day, and more.

“As a caregiver, whether you’re the parent or the school caregiver, it’s so important to really peel back the layers, and make sure you’re looking at every aspect,” Kerstein says.

Some of these challenges you may face with your child are to be developmentally expected. And as we know, developmental milestones look different for every child. Kerstein’s first piece of advice to parents: trust
your gut.

Yes, it’s important to set boundaries and consequences, but it’s also important to gather information, help your kids feel safe, and help them understand the appropriate way to get their needs met.

Finding Solutions
You should also give yourself permission to step away. It’s okay to not be okay, and it’s good to step back from a sticky situation and calm yourself down. It’s also okay to seek out help and support. In full transparency, Kertsein shares how as kids age, it doesn’t get easier. But by engaging with a professional for help, you’re laying a foundation that you can build on throughout your entire experience as
a parent.

Although Kerstein is a huge advocate for individualized care, she offers three final, general tips for helping your child through difficult times at school and at home: feelings, flexibility, and fun.

“I highly recommend engaging in conversations around feelings,” says Kerstein. “We have a misnomer that kids, just by osmosis, learn what feelings are, and it is wrong.”

Most kids certainly don’t understand contextual clues and intensity, so your strategies need to match your intensity. Here is where feelings meet intervention, which makes for flexibility. Be a flexible example for your children, talking them through your thought processes, explaining why you did or didn’t do something, and verbal encouragement.

Lastly, make fun connections. If you can create moments of positivity for your child in specific locations or situations, the end result can make life more simple and enjoyable for everyone.

Kerstein says, “The value of validation and praise is that we help kids understand what we’re looking for.”

Communication may very well be the most important factor in parenting. Things may not always turn out perfectly, but having a conversation with your child may open the door to a new level of trust and love between you two.

Not sure where to start? If you feel like your child may need help, be sure to talk to their teachers and other caregivers about how they behave when you’re not around, then consult your pediatrician.

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