Q.  Why are children so well-behaved at school but when they come home, they become little terrors?

A.  What it means when kids are well-behaved at school and not at home is usually this – they are strongly bonded to their family and know they are completely safe at home.  This is not to say that kids at school feel in danger.  However, it is human nature that we save our worst selves for the situations in which we feel most comfortable.  If you have raised your kids in such a way that they trust you to love them no matter what, they feel able to show you the no-matter-what behavior.

So the trick, as parents, is how to give our kids a completely safe environment with unconditional love (because that builds healthy people) and still help them to behave better at home.  Here are a few suggestions:

1.  Teach this hard truth – what you do and say is usually MORE IMPORTANT than how you feel. 

Even if you are frustrated, cranky, sad, tired, hungry, or not feeling well, my sweet child, you still must ask for things nicely and say thank you if you get them. A bad day at school does not entitle you to slam our front door, throw your backpack in the corner and stomp upstairs without saying hello.

However, you are welcome to come in and say “Hi Mom.  I’ve had a hard day and I would like to be alone for a while.” Not only is this better for keeping some peace in your home, it will keep your children happy later in life. Your kids will not be surprised that a bad day is no excuse for poor behavior at work or for treating a spouse badly. They will keep the good things in life more easily than children who do not grow up with this lesson. 

2.  Develop an after-school (or after-preschool) routine. 

Kids thrive on routine, because they understand better what to expect and what you expect of them. This is actually another reason that teachers often get better behavior from our kids than we do. Kids know what will happen and what they will need to do at any given time at school. 

Be consistent about how long you stay to play on the playground, what snacks are available and when, where to put lunch bags and backpacks, how long they have to relax before homework time, etc.  Work out what works for you and then stick to it as much as possible.  If something comes up, explain it to your child and be clear about the specifics.

3.  This one is for us parents. 

Remember that we have taught our children, all the years of their life, to behave better in front of other kids and grown ups. Try to accept that, when our kids let down their guard at home, this is just one of the many ways our children show us their love. And remember, no child is perfect.

Dr. Deborah Gilboa is a Board Certified family physician, mother of four, and a professional parenting writer and speaker (for parents, community & business). Her signature individualized workshop, “How to Get the Behavior You Want, Without Being the Parent You Hate” captivates parents through her humorous straight talk, which lifts the guilt out of parenting. Her mission is to help parents raise children they can respect and admire. Visit her website.


Two boys standing on a bed pillow fighting

Photo by Allen Taylor on Unsplash


Maria Lianos-Carbone is the author of “Oh Baby! A Mom’s Self-Care Survival Guide for the First Year”, and publisher of amotherworld.com, a leading lifestyle blog for women.


  1. I was terrified of sending my girls to MDO because I was afraid that Claire would dominate, bite, or misbehave as she did at home. But everyone assured me that they just know that they need to behave at school. I think the teachers give a different sense of authority, plus, they tend not to give in like we do sometimes at home. Which is another issue I’m personally working on. 🙂

    • Leigh Ann, you are totally right! Teachers know (from experience) that they have to be consistent with each child and among all the children as best they can. It builds trust and a sense of safety because the kids know what is expected of them. It’s good for our kids that we are flexible, but not too flexible – a hard line to find. Did Claire run the room?

  2. I agree..My nephew is said to be very behave at school where he is very naughty at home…I think maybe because he is comfortable with the people inside the house than in school…

    • Well that makes sense. But his behavior doesn’t have to stay that way. Being more comfortable at home is good, being more difficult at home on a consistent basis is not as good for the parents or the kids.

  3. Sometimes, kids are definitely behave at school because they are not used to people around them…they have the capability to be shy and hesitant to mingle with other people…

    • Yes, “shy” definitely looks like good behavior to most adults. And it is lovely that even shy kids open up at home. I guess how lovely it is depends on what they show when they open up to us!

  4. This is a regular occurrence in my home — great reports from the teachers, smart mouth at home! I agree with you that setting a before and after school routine helps. I find that often my boys need to just decompress after a full day of ‘behaving’ and a little exercise helps burn off steam before homework.

    • You’re right Rachel! A lot of kids need some running around or brain-powered-down time after a day of living by school rules. I’ve also noticed at my house that different kids react differently – one of mine needs that time, one wants to get his homework done and then play until bedtime. He has more trouble re-focusing later than just getting it out of the way while he is still in a “school zone.” Accommodating different schedules in the same family can be hard at first, but usually pays off in the end.

  5. Karylle Lynch Reply

    “This is a great post!
    I can totally relate! My son’s teacher would tell me that my son behaves very well in school and doesn’t show any tantrums. While at home he sometimes exhibits normal-child tantrums like crying out loud if he wants something.
    I agree with you that setting before, and after-school routine would really help. And I guess this is also what I, and my kids are lacking.
    Thank you so much for sharing this post!”

    • Consistency is the hardest part of parenting. Don’t beet yourself up, just keep on keeping on!

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