I am often contacted by desperate parents in September or October who say “Help! My child has turned into a demon at home, but school say they are brilliant all day and behave really well, what have I done wrong?”.
The presumption here is that the parents must have done something wrong to cause the poor behaviour, because school aren’t having the same issue. In a sense they’re correct, the behaviour is because of something they’ve done, but not in the negative way they expect. This happens because parents have done everything right! When you make your child feel loved, safe, supported and respect with you, they feel comfortable enough to be their authentic selves with you, or in other words, they don’t have to pretend or ‘be good’ anymore. They have spent all day, at school, holding in frustration, fear, anxiety, anger and other uncomfortable emotions, because they know that it is “naughty” to let them out at school. When they get home to you however things are entirely different. There’s a massive release. Imagine your child at school and everything they have to deal with as being a bottle of fizzy drink. They have spent all day being shaken, building pressure, but have ‘been good’ and managed to keep their lid screwed on tightly. When they see you, the need to release is huge, pop, off comes the lid and the ensuing spray of all that has been bottled up inside. The technical term for this is restraint collapse, but I much prefer to think of that bottle finally releasing its pressure.
This is all a wonderful compliment of your parenting skills. If you hadn’t made your child feel secure enough to be authentic with you, when they were feeling happy and otherwise, then they would continue to bottle up the feelings and the release (and subsequent mess) would likely happen at school. Causing far more problems. Many children sadly get into the cycle of not being able to release to their parents, perhaps because their parents have raised them to not share how they feel with them through constant punishments and exclusions, or perhaps because the parents have been too busy, or absent, to listen. The result then is constant difficulty and poor behaviour at school, as they struggle to keep a lid on things and erratically explode, without the safe release of home.
What can you do about restraint collapse? Really, the best thing is to understand and accept it for what it is, a great testament to the hard work you have put into raising a child with good emotional intelligence and a strong bond with them. The effects wear off as children settle into school and things become easier for them, however you will see it time and again throughout the school years. When it happens again (after initially ceasing) you will know that they are struggling with something at school. Don’t take any explosions personally, they are definitely not acting this way because they hate you, it’s actually a bizarre way of them saying that they love you, lots. Instead, let your child know that it’s OK, you’re here for them and you’re big enough and mature enough to hold their difficult feelings as well as their happy ones.
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