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“I don’t get it! Julie is so good in school, yet when she’s at home with me, she answers back, storms out of the room and does not follow my directions.”

This is the sentiment of a mom trying to get her school-aged child to cooperate at home. Is this the same child her teacher is talking about?

It’s not an uncommon scenario at all. What is it about school that keeps our kids in line, cooperative and even, congenial? What’s different at home? Often times teachers use a system to report back to the parent on how the child is doing. When children who are uncooperative and even defiant at home are given stellar reports from teachers, parents become confused.

According to some local moms, there is a burst of emotion when kids get home — sort of a decompression, where all that was “held together” throughout the day, unleashes in the child’s “safe place,” home.

Others feel it is due to what the teacher will or will not tolerate, versus what the parents accept. One mother finds herself saying, “I know you don’t talk to your teacher that way!”

Social media remains a great way for people to stay connected and as a behavioral clinician, I’m able to keep my finger on the pulse of parents’ divergent viewpoints and what they perceive works, as well as their frustrations. The dichotomy of school versus home behaviors remains a real concern. One parent conveyed that when she asked her daughter, who was 10 years old, why she did so much better, behaviorally, at school, the response, “because you love me and the school doesn’t.” Very telling.

We all, from childhood on, have learning histories, which includes learning the system of rules and ramifications in daycare and at school. Some parents, when asked about home behaviors versus school behavior, were adamant that their child has learned that disrespect would not be tolerated at home.

On the other hand, those parents who thought their child needed a “safe place” to vent and decompress, expected some noncompliance, even defiance, and were sometimes unsure how their child accomplished such self-control in the school setting.

I believe that expectations, structure, consequences and the overall climate

in the environment (stressful, organized, calm, chaotic, etc.) all play a part

in behavior.

It looks to me like Julie, from her prior learning experiences, knows what she can get away with. Why is she able to keep it together for so many hours a day in school? Well, she knows the consequences. The very structured school setting is designed with systems that foster and reinforce self-control. If the structured setting is removed, the child’s need to self-manage is now based on a different set of expectations, and negative behaviors don’t generate the same consequences.

In addition, the child who said “you love me and school doesn’t,” speaks to the notion of social reinforcement. Children want validation from their peers and teachers, which they have learned are conditional upon appropriate behavior. Apparently, at home, the same child doesn’t have to win you over.

Children may need to decompress after a day of “holding it together,” but they need to understand the appropriate ways to decompress.

There are ways to express the need for “down time,” less demands and even frustration. How children do that depends on their environmental expectations and consequences.

The home should be a place of emotional support and nurturance, however, expectations, consequences and consistency will continue to provide children with the internal controls they need across all environments.

Beth Raiola MS, LBS, BCBA has a private ABA and counseling practice in Pocono Summit. She works with early intervention learners as well as kindergarten through teen-agers and their families. She holds social skills groups for children with special needs, groups with teen girls and parenting workshops locally. Email her at