Why does my child act differently when she’s away from me?

When parents hear how well-behaved their child is with a relative, teacher, friend, or caretaker, their response is often, “That’s not how she acts when she’s with me”. And conversely, when parents hear that their usually energetic child seemed withdrawn while spending time away from home, they wonder, “Why does she act differently when she’s away?”

A child’s behavior does change, depending on whom she’s with and where she is. Parents see this when they pick her up from school, day care, or a friend’s house. As soon as they arrive, she may start acting negatively—whining, making demands, and clinging. When a parent asks if she’s acted this way all along, the usual answer is, “No, she was fine until you arrived”. Parents may be partly relieved to hear their child enjoyed herself, but also partly upset by her actions.

Most often, a child’s behavior changes when her parents arrive because she’s more comfortable when they’re around. Once she sees them, she can express the feelings she may have been keeping to herself. Perhaps the day was frustrating because she couldn’t play with a favorite toy or because a teacher put pressure on her. Or perhaps she was angry at her parents for leaving her with a caregiver. The day’s frustrations all come out when her parents come to pick her up.

It’s natural for a child to feel less comfortable expressing her needs and feelings when she’s away from home. Adults, too, are more reserved when at work or in the company of others. Therefore, it’s not surprising that a child who seems content all day will let off steam when she’s with her parents.

Sometimes parents experience the opposite situation with their child. She seems happy and playful when they arrive and is reluctant to go home. The parents assume that she’s had a wonderful time, but often she has actually spent the day acting withdrawn and uninvolved. Such behavior, typical of two-year-olds, occurs because she’s more comfortable playing and exploring when her parents are around. Therefore, she doesn’t really begin to enjoy herself until it’s time to leave.

If your child seems fussy after a day away from you, or starts complaining when it’s time to go home, be sure to question the teacher, friend, or caregiver. Ask about your child’s interest and activity level, and try to get a true picture of her day. When communication is good between you and your child’s caregivers, you’ll be better able to anticipate and understand her behavior.

If you know that her mood will change when she sees you, you can plan ahead. If she’s whining, try to distract her. “When we get home, I’m going to get the play dough out”. And if you know she’ll want to start playing when you’re ready to pick her up from school or day care, plan to arrive a little early or stay a little longer. That way, she’ll have time to explore comfortably and then leave in a pleasant way.  

Picture Credit : Google