Angel at school, devil at home?

I've had a few clients come in lately reporting extreme frustration with their little one. "At school, he's amazing. He's helpful, listens well, and is an all around joy. At home? Completely the opposite! What gives?"

So parents hear glowing reports from teachers and care takers, but find that once they come home or go to pick their child up, things fall apart. And it isn't pretty. Watching your child lose it with no or very, very little obvious provocation can be...heart breaking. Frustrating. Embarassing. Crazy-making. Why is my presence enough to provoke this avalanche of emotion? Why as soon as we walk in the door, does my child lash out at his sibling/kick the dog/not listen to ANYTHING I say? He doesn't do that at school!

If your child isn't manifesting aggressive behavior at school, that's a good thing. It means that she has impulse control and some self-regulation skills. Now, no one's perfect and your little one's brain is still maturing, so let's say, most of the time she handles school or day care pretty well. And yet, being made to sit quietly, and play nicely, and share is tough. We ask a lot of kids at a pretty early age. It can take a toll, so that once your child is back in your loving presence, she has to unpack all the emotions that have been stuffed down just to make it through the day. Your child showing you all of these ugly feelings means she feels safe enough to share. Your child trusts that you can handle these feelings.

So congratulations that you have been empathic enough and developed a strong bond with your child. Now the hard part. So how to handle it when your child flies off the handle at the end of the day? Connecting is your secret weapon. Greet your child warmly with a big hug when you are reunited. Allow him to bask in your attention. Take the time to reconnect before getting swamped with the millions of tasks that await your attention. And if he is set off and starts to jump on the unreasonable train with next stop, Meltdown City, don't take it personally. You child needs your help and isn't acting out to get under your skin. Wait a beat, take a breath and reflect on how to help your child navigate the rocky shoals.  Allowing big emotions is a good thing, as long as you stay calm, loving and connected. Once the big feelings come out, the rest of the afternoon and evening will be much easier, as your child will be more relaxed and more likely to comply.

So don't send your child away to be alone with his or her big feelings, or try to shut the emotions down through treats or screen time. Instead, stay present, keep listening and reflecting how hard it is for him or her. You'll find your child's emotional storm will soon pass, and you will have shown that he or she is loved and accepted, unconditionally. And what better message to send?