Every parent has, at least once, been in a situation where someone will remark how innocent and well behaved your child is and they have had to nod, and agree, and think, “you have no idea”.
Young children are incredibly temperamental and unpredictable, sometimes behaving, sometimes not. However, surprisingly it is oftentimes Mothers who have to take the brunt of their children acting out.
A faux study run by the University of Washington’s Department of Psychology determined that children’s behaviour is up to 800% worse when around their Mother than their Father.
Whilst the study was a humorous take on the observation that vchanges for the worst upon the appearance of their Mother, child psychologists are often tasked with getting to the heart of why it is Mother’s who face the worst of their child’s behaviour.
Here are some of the most conclusive reasons behind why children act worse with their Mother than their Father.
1. Mother means safety
Early research shows that children view their Mothers as safe places. As children know they are safe in her presence, they experience the freedom to act out however they are feeling because they know no harm will come from showing their vulnerabilities.
In addition, temper tantrums, bad moods and bad behaviour can be ways for children to release stress if they have had a bad day. As they relax in the safety and nurture of their Mother’s presence, they release pent up emotions. If these result in punishment or scolding, the child still does not care because they are experiencing the cathartic release of negative feelings.
This release of unregulated emotions is also why parents are encouraged not to punish children who may be having a tantrum or a spell of bad behavior. Instead, parents are encouraged to listen, nurture and understand their children’s point of view.
As adults, we would not want to be punished for releasing the stress of our bad days, so if this is the recognized cause of the misbehavior, children should not be either.
2. Children feel neglected
Another reason that has emerged in twenty-first century parenting is due to the increased pace of life. With the increased rush and pressure on time, it can be difficult for parents to take time to slow down, close the door on work and instead be present with their children.
Children are the most significant of all attention seekers. Children seek attention from their parents for reassurance, bonding, or because they have needs like hunger or tiredness that need addressing.
If children do not receive satisfactory attention from their parents, often acting up is a definite way to receive it because the parent is forced to dedicate time in order to soothe and address the bad behavior.
This is where parents can benefit from practices such as mindfulness and conscious parenting techniques. Both these parenting philosophies can maintain parental awareness on remaining conscious and present with their children, negating the need for children to act badly in order to receive the attention they crave.
3. They may not feel as close to others
A fundamental phenomenon of the human brain is the need to always be on our best behavior and best impressions in front of people we don’t know, rather than those we do. For a quick example of this in action, think about the You that you present in workplace meetings, as opposed to the You that you present when relaxing with friends or family in your free time.
Whilst children are not adverse to this phenomenon, they can fail to be able to regulate it correctly in their surroundings. This can be a reason why they could be so sweet and innocent playing with new friends in the park until their Mother arrives.
This feeling can also reflect on the relationship with their Father. Traditionally, mothers often stay at home with the children while fathers are working, and therefore spending less time with the child than the Mother. This time can damage the bonding process between Father and child, and lead to the child feeling more secure in their Mothers presence.
Another interesting theory put forward by Steve Silvstro, a pediatrician and the host of a parenting podcast, The Child Repair Guide was that our own inconsistencies can play a part in a child’s behaviors.
His example given was that of the classroom environment. In a classroom, teachers must manage the behavior of many children at the same time, and so as a rule of survival, children will adhere more consistently to rules because teachers will offer less leeway than their parents when it comes to sanctioning bad behavior.
Whereas at home, a child who is told repeatedly to stop doing something before the parent finally takes action only learns that sometimes their behavior will be tolerated up until a certain point, which makes the bad aspect of the behavior more confusing to identify from a child’s perspective.
This can be reflected in parental relationships and is a core principle of intentional parenting. In the intentional parenting philosophy, parents are taught to be consistent with their boundaries and expectations.
If for example the Mother is always saying no, but the father is saying yes, this behavior is inconsistent and so the child may act up as a way of expressing confusion in conflicting actions.
Parents should present a united front and their communication should be clear and consistent, with both parents accurately shaping the child’s behavior.
5. Mother might be a softer touch
Stereotypically, Father’s are always presented as disciplinarians that should not be crossed, pushed, or challenged for authority.
In comparison, the stereotypical image of a mother is one of warmth, empathy and nurture.
Whilst parents should place emphasis on their children acting naturally and feeling safe enough around them to act honestly, parents and mothers especially should be careful to be aware that a child’s tantrums and bad behavior isn’t stemming from a place of manipulation.
If a child is maintaining bad behavior because they know there will be a form of reward for doing so, for example, a parent giving in to demands for sweets, the child will learn that this is the way to receive either the item, attention, need or desire they are seeking.
These behaviors are incredibly detrimental as the child grows up, lingering long into adulthood and therefore should be avoided at all costs.
It is essential for parents to teach their children what is acceptable and what is not and by enforcing boundaries and remaining firm in the face of negative, or manipulative tactics means that these are removed from the child at an early age.
As parents we must remember that we are not only raising a child, we are shaping the persona of the adults they will become once they are fully grown.
Parents should keep in mind that whilst it is not a bad thing to let their children experience emotions like tantrums, and indeed should work collaboratively with them to try to identify, understand and resolve these issues, bad behaviors should not contain exploitative agendas.
Raising children is an incredible responsibility, and it is perfectly acceptable to have worries and frustrations when feeling that you are the inferior parent.
Feeling like you’re not enough can make us more inclined to be angry or withdrawn, so it is important to remember that you are not doing anything wrong.
Regardless of your anxieties this behavior does not reflect at all on you. Children are not capable of expressing themselves in the way that adults are, so often it is important to take the time to study and understand our child’s behaviour so that we can better understand them.
In these times it is important to consider the age of the child, who they are most accustomed to, who they spend most of their time with, their wants and needs, and who reflects any interests they may have the best.
Try to remember to stay mindful, and resist giving into the feelings of inadequacy and powerlessness which can make us become angry, stressed, demanding and withdrawn, and which harm our relationships with our children in the long term.
If anything this research proves that children misbehave more with Mothers because of the overwhelming feelings of love, safety, nurture and care that their Mothers provide. Our children cannot communicate like adults, so these unregulated emotions are ways of communicating how valued you are to them, how comfortable they are in your presence and how much they love us.
Feel confident in your parenting by remembering that your child is fortunate to have you. Letting them express themselves in the only ways they know allows them to be vulnerable to feeling vital emotions that can shape their identities.
Whilst it is difficult, try to avoid strict regimented, punishable routines. Come to view this behavior as a compliment. Keep aware of your child’s behavior so that you can keep them on a path to being the best adults that they can be, full of love, compassion and emotional awareness.