18 answers

Children's Behavior Better with Dad than Mom

I'm wondering if anyone else experiences this. My kids (twins, 6 1/2) act much better with their Dad than with me. We are divorced, and my son has a lot of temper tantrums when he's with me -- talks back, acts out, etc. His Dad says he never has these problems. I have been told by others that kids act out more with the person they feel safest with -- that that's when it's safe to fall apart. Does anyone else experience this?

What can I do next?

More Answers

I am wondering if you are sticking to your rules and disciplining your kids accordingly (which at my house always seems to result in my kids saying "that's not fair" and throwing their little fits and talking back), but maybe your husband is letting things slide, so the kids are not talking back etc to him? Maybe his perception is that the kids are acting "fine" when in fact they're doing a whole lot of things that are not ok at your house. And then when they get back to your house, they've got bad habits that you have to break them of... resulting in you being the "bad cop" to your ex-husband's "good cop."

I don't know if that's the case, of course, but I know that I tend to discipline my kids for things that my husband doesn't clue into. If you think that might be the case for you, my only suggestion is to try and come up with a list of things that the kids are NOT allowed to do in your home, and get your ex to agree to that same list (possibly this may end up meaning some things get taken off the list - whatever, as long as both parties are using the same rules). I don't think it matters HOW the kids are disciplined, as long as both parents are taking action on the same issues. It seems to me that consistency between both homes would help.

Anyway, I don't know if this was helpful, but it's what sprang to mind for me when I read your post. Good luck and let us know how it all turns out!

1 mom found this helpful

I agree withthe posts you have so far, & am not split with my husband, but in our household I hear that on "daddy days" (when I go to work day or night times), he does not have nearly the behavioral issues that I do. I think a part of this is a function of what I'm clued into, & that he is with me more, so he feels safer to act out. Also, in our household, Dad puts up with very little guff, while I apparently put up with more. If this is the case for your household also, it could account for some of that...

I have found good resources in "love & logic parenting" books/tapes, they teach you how to set good clear boundaries with your kids, and naturla consequences for those behaviors & choices. The idea is, it teaches kids responsibility by allowing them to feel the natural consequences, and work out their own problems, while the relative "cost" is pretty low, so they can make good choices as they grow. They address the divorce issue specifically, as well. Some of their techniques seem counter-intuitive to me, but I think that may be conditioning from my own folks' protectiveness when I was a kid, coming thru me.

One suggestion they offer in love & logic parenting, is if your kid is acting out, they are free to do so, but they need to change their location so it isn't disturbing you & the others in the household, which means the kid can go be a jerk in his (or her) room. The main thing for you to do is to be as neutral & flat affect as possible, (not show anger--this can be hard!), & welcome him/her back to the main area of the house when he is feeling better. Encourage him to go away & work out his problem on his own...talk LESS, not more. Encourage him to think, & figure out what consequences naturally follow annoying or rude behavior, just like in the real world. If you are rude & annoying other places, people won't want to be around you. But the trick is, the more you tell the kid about the consequences & how they relate to the problem, the less the kid has to actually THINK about it & figure it out for him/herself. Check it out! Hope this helps. It has really helped me, even though I find myself explaining too much at times, still.

1 mom found this helpful

I can't answer your question, but I can tell you that I am also having the same problem. My son acts like he has been struck by lightening when his step-father tells him to do something. Let me tell him to do something; I have to scream, shout, etc..... I CAN'T STAND IT! It's not fair to me. It places alot of stress on me and I'm tired of it! Just like you, I would love to know how to get my son to react to me like he does his step-father.

Hi S..

I am also a divorced mom (3 1/2 years) and have two boys 7 and 11. They went through major anger over the whole divorce. Their dad was verbally abusive to me and them, and physically abusive to my oldest (one of the reasons we divorced.) However, they are angels at their dad's house. In our case it is out of fear. If they do one thing wrong they will be made to feel very bad by their dad. At home, the oldest one's anger was taken out on me. He knows I love him and will love him no matter what.

Now things are beginning to change. My oldest one is seeing who his dad is, and though he doesn't respect him, he behaves good around him, but gives his girlfriend heck. (He's on his 6th girlfriend in 3 years). At home he is becoming much more peaceful. Home offers stability.

Two things I had to do. First, I got him into counseling. It really helped him get control of his behavior. Second, the counselor gave me input on how to be consistent with discipline. He knows if he acts out for me there will be some serious consequences (his tech decks get taken away, or he doesn't get to visit with friends). He has to control his tongue or he's not allowed to use it (in his room alone until he can control it.) We have a star chart for good behavior, and so many stars equals a reward (ice cream, or a tech deck.)

Of course the other things that have helped my kids are that they are both growing older, we are very involved in our church and have very loving friends, and both boys are very involved in scouts which stresses respect and the older boy scouts are wonderful examples to the younger boys. I think the influence these things have had on them, plus their understanding that I'm not going to put up with unacceptable behavior has made a huge difference.

I talk honestly with my kids and explain to them that I know they are angry, but taking it out on other people is not going to help. One other thing that helps is lots and lots of exercise! When they are angry, they can go run laps or shoot some baskets. It really does help.

Good luck to you. I'm with you. It is so hard being a single mom, but I know it will get better. God bless you. If you want to talk more, feel free to email me.

I don't have personal experience with this, but my first thought is that your children may think, "if we are good for dad, he'll come back and live with us again". They may be shouldering the blame for the separation, that they weren't good enough and now they are trying to impress dad so he will come back home.

Hi, I have little experience with the custody battle. My oldest son is from a previous relationship, we were never married, thank God. Anyway, he wanted our son off and on frequently and I knew from the beginning that it would not be right/good for our son to have to go through that and not have a stable home. So I did not agree to that. We agreed that he would have our son every other weekend and every wed. he would then have the responsiblity to take him to school on Thursday and also on Mon. if he had him that Sun from his weekend. I know most kids come back on Sun., but he needed more responsibility with him, I shouldn't have to do it all myself. That worked out very well. Dad was the fun guy though and taking him to Toys R Us often. But from me, my son learned responsibility and how to be a good person and the morals and values of life. We got along well and at times needed to switch a weekend for family functions, he would then have him two weekends in a row to make up for that time that I had him, etc.

I think one week here and the next week there is too much on the kids. There is no "home" for them. Psychologically that has a bad impact on them. They do not know where they belong and where is home? I think you could try and make other arrangements if possible. Your ex may get upset, but remember you as a mother always has the upper hand and the courts almost always favor the mother unless they are not responsible or stable. Good luck and God bless.

I would not presume to tell you what's going on with your children, but I'll share what went on with my two children after my husband and I divorced. The children definitely acted out with one parent more than the other, but I believe it was stress about the split family that caused much of the acting out. Even years after the divorce, my daughter was angry with her father (still is; it's been 15 years) and would act up at his house. My son became a withdrawn recluse, which was his way of dealing with the stress of the divorce. Now, our divorce was as amicable as any I've ever heard of. I'm still good friends with my ex. But, divorce and shared custody is really hard on kids. You just have to make the best of it and parent your children consistently, setting clear expectations for behavior with clear consequences for unacceptable behavior and lots of praise and appreciation for behaving well.

Hi S..

I'm also a divorced mom of two girls (12 and 5) ... so I feel for what you're going through. It is certainly NOT easy!

I'm no "expert," but I can share with you what I've learned along the way. My comments (in no particular order) are: (1) When dad "leaves" the family home, kids are sometimes afraid (even if it's not justified) that dad will "leave" them too if he gets mad enough at them. (So they're basically more afraid to "piss him off!") Regardless of what's going on between you and your ex, you should both reassure your kids that no matter what happens both their parents love them very much and will always be there for them. (2) When kids are stressed out, sad, frustrated, etc. (fill in any emotion that's tough to deal with), they "act out." So, your son's acting out might be from any emotion he's trying to work through (eg. sad about the divorce, adjusting to change in the schedule, etc.) Try to give him time and be as understanding as you can while he "adjusts." (3) If your situation is anything like mine, mom is the one who does most of the disciplining, making sure the homework gets done, making sure the "routine" is followed, etc. Time with dad is more about having fun (thus the term "Disneyland Dad" that happens alot with divorced dads). Thus, they're not really that thrilled (at first anyway) about coming "home." I've found that my girls are extra crabby, irritable, mean, etc. after coming home from their dads because it was all about fun with him and now they have to come back to mean old, boring mom. (So unfair, but reality.) Someone once told me to make me feel better about this to think about when you go on vacation ... you have a lot of fun but you eventually want to come "home" ... I'd actually choose to have the place that feels like "home" rather than the "vacation" place if I have to choose between the two. (4) Not sure how good the terms are between you and your ex, but it's important that your ex "side with you" about your son's disrespect toward you even if he's not witnessing it. In other words, if you tell your ex that your son is acting out with you, your ex should let your son know (with you) that it's not ok to treat mom badly even if it doesn't happen at his (your ex's) house. (This type of "support" was not something my ex could give me .. even for the sake of his kids ... but hopefully your's can.) It's important (in an ideal world) for the kids to see their parents working together ... even if they're divorced. (I actually taped a Supernanny episode on this subject that was really helpful .... if you're interested.)

Hope this helps. Like I said ... it's not easy. Hang in there and always trust your instincts.


Hi S.,

You were told right. My son goes through the same thing. He's a very articulate 10 year old, so he was actually able to tell me himself. He said, "You are the person I trust most in the world." My brother had good advice about this - he said that the games kids play, like pushing boundaries and going around and around with arguments and back talk, it's part of the growing-up dance. He said we each have our parts to play, and that kids keep doing it to make sure that their parents are still there and reliable in keeping limits in place. I found that very comforting.

Good luck,

Hi S., I too am divorced and have 2 boys that live at home with me ages 5 and 3. My 5 year old has major tantrums, talks back, throws things, wont sit in time-outs, etc. Then my 3yr old tries to follow behind him. They go to their dad's house 2-3 days out of the week. Usually weekends. I've asked him if he has the same trouble with the listening and fighting between them. He tells me not as bad as I do. I have to say that I feel as if i am losing my mind with my parenting...I love my children so much and I adjust my life around them. I don't have another husband or companion either. What I am doing is getting my child and myself into counseling. I am grateful that I read your entry, because for some reason I hardly ever read them when they are posted and today I decided too. So I too know that I am not alone with this problem. Good luck to you, and I am going to start reading the daily digest from now on.. = ) C.

PS.i read the entry below about going into another room to be a "jerk" and then when they are ready they can come out...I think that is a good idea...

Sounds like a lot of hard changes for your kids. It is the changes and not who they feel safest with that makes them act out. They are confused and in an unconsisten environment and are probably upset with you and or your husband. Divorce has very negative affects on kids especially at these ages. They often feel it is their fault or you or your husband don't love them, etc. I know it sounds harsh, but such inconsistency has to be hard. They might act better with their dad because he could be more disciplinary or they are scared of him. They may feel they can get away with more when they are with you. I would sit down at their level and talk to them, just ask them what they are feeling about the divorce. I would also get them involved in counseling if their behaviour doesn't change. Divorce is always hardest on the children and it is unfortunate that your children have to go through this. Also based on the reason for divorce, that could be an indictator. Good luck

Hi S.!

I have 2 different experiences with this Topic.

When I married my husband, I became a stepmom. Our visits with his kids were only on Weekends (at first ). So, I hate to say it, but we were like the Disneyland Dad Household. We had to "make up for lost time" in a weekend. So YES! the kids would come and NEVER act out because they knew we were doing fun things. Once my husband shared equal custody, then things got "back to normal"....well as normal things can get for a blended family :o) Anyway, that was years ago, they are 22 & 24 now :o)

Now today, "our" kids are 11 and 5, and DEFINITELY behave better for their dad, then they do me. Never an argument, a tantrum, or nothing! My husband could ask them to clean anything and they would do it!

I've learned to just accept it, and try to take it as a "compliment", and allow their "daddy time" to be special. I know my children love me, but the truth is I can be more serious....I mean I am the one who has to keep the routine, the good eating, the hygiene, etc....Daddy is "the fun one".....

Maybe you can try to "look" at yourself, and how you really "are" when your children are home with you. Is there any "fun" in your home, or is it all "routine" like I mostly am :o) I mean, it's so hard to maintain it all, but I try to be "the fun one" now that I can see the difference.

Aside from it all, I'm sorry you're having this problem. It's hard enough for children when they go through a divorce, let alone have extra troubles. It can take a year, or more, to finally get settled from a split family. So, please nuture the "healing time" for your children. They will truly respond better to you LATER in their life.

Good Luck to you!

:o) N.

Hi S.,

My children are the same way and I am not even divorced. I've been told that kids test their boundaries more when the rules are more clearly defined. So, maybe your ex does not have clear boundaries.


Hi S., I was a nanny for 4 yrs along time ago for a family in simular situation. The children were 6 and 7. They did act up more with there mom and that was hard for her because she just wanted to enjoy her time with them and make up for the pain caused.You've gotten lots of great advice and I think what Catherine ,who was your first post said would be my advice. If you and your x can try to make your two homes as cohesive as possible. I saw that when things are very different as far as rules and expectations it is very hard on the children. I also felt the children really would have liked to had one home base. Even though they loved both their parents it was to much going back and forth every week. They were reliving that divorce every week. It was a constant reminder. As a care giver for children for many years I have seen that they tend to fall apart where they feel safest. Figureing out life is hard enough and then to have two homes to understand the rules of must be really confusing and stressful.So do what you can to make the transition back and fourth have some consistancy. And even better would be a different schedule. Best wishes to you

I'm going to be completely honest and say I am not divorced, so I don't have experience in that realm. However, my husband and I have been through some VERY difficult times and it is a wonder we're not divorced. My daughter was a toddler in those times and my son was either not born or an infant, so he has no recollection. My daughter does indeed test me more than she tests him - to this day. I believe that it is because she knows that I am the parent that was here for here during the bad times and she feels safest with me even though those problems are behind my husband and I and have been for several years.

That being said, my daughter and son both misbehave more with me than their dad. I think it's just part of being a mom in some ways. My mom likes to tell me how my brother and I used to do things "just for her benefit" because we'd NEVER pull that stuff with my dad (my parents are still married). P

However, just reading your post, I see that your kids have just been through a MAJOR change. I have no idea how you do it or they do it to be frank - the one week on and one week off. I really feel for your family. I think your son is definitely acting out because he feels safe with you. Because of the change, maybe you should give a call to his pediatrician and just ask some questions to put your mind at ease.

I know I don't have the experience with the divorce, but I wanted to reassure you that in my experience, even kids in married households act out on mom more.

From my experience with my son and from other mothers with sons, most mothers seem to be more empathetic such as being aware feelings, thoughts, and experiences are regarded in our interactions. We talk about feelings, emotions, and why we behave certain ways, or why others act certain ways. We also talk about other peoples feelings and emotions, such as, "How do you think ________ felt when you teased him?" In inter-cultural speech communications, this is what would be called "feminine actions" because of the demonstration of less perspective of role behaviors associated with gender and acceptance of neutering roles.

On the other hand, most dads seem to be more assertive. When my son starts getting emotionally upset when dad is around, my husband will tell him to "man up" and to just "deal with it" (and I have gotten the same response from other fathers as well). So this side of the spectrum is what is called "masculinity" according to my inter-cultural communication studies. Basically with masculinity, it is norm that they elaborate on manliness, and specific behaviors are associated with appropriate "male" behavior, such as "boys don't cry".

So, since when your boys are around you, they are able to be a little emotional and express their feelings which constitutes to their temper tantrums and other behavior patterns. While they are with their dad, they have explicit expectations of "manly" behavior. Try being more firm with your sons, and clearly state that their behavior is not acceptable, send them to their room, or whatever punishment works well to enforce proper behavior. I had to put my foot down with my son and it has worked. I am still empathetic with him, but he knows that I am "in charge", and that improper behavior is not acceptable.

I hope this helps clear up some questions,

M. *~

First let me say that I feel for you and as a single mother, separated for 6 years, of a now 13 year old I am totally empathic to your situation. Stay firm with your boundaries and give yourself lots of "time outs". It took awhile but now my son acts out just as much with his Dad as he does with me. I too had to hear how "perfect" our son was with his father.

Second, as a family law professional, let me say that a week on week off plan for 6 1/2 years olds seems pretty agressive. Most of the mental health professionals in this field would not suggest a plan like that until the children are older. Only in extreme cases of parental conflict would a week on week off plan be recommended. The normal plan, for children that age, is what is called a "5 5 2 2". Example, you would have Mon/Tues, he would have Wed/Thurs and the weekends would alternate. That way the longest stretch of time the children would have to go without seeing either of you would be 5 days. Did you ease the children into the week on/week off plan? If not such an abrupt change might be causing them additional stress and because your the "secure safe" parent your getting all the fall out. With that said, your children will eventually adjust to the new plan but it will take time and patience on your part.

One of the things my ex and I did to help our child cope was to get two big wall size month-at-a glance calendars. We marked "mommy days" in red and "daddy days" in blue on the calendar. When our son was with either his father or me he would mark the days off on the calendar with big x's. That way he could actually see where he was going to be from one day the next. Having something tangible to see like a calendar really helped to calm down his insecurities.

I wish you the best of luck, stay strong and as my counselor used to tell me "remember to breathe".

Hi S.,

I'm not divorced, but I'm a mother of a 3 year old as well as a stepmother of a 11 year ols boy and a 14 year old girl. But this is not the point. I just want to tell you that I've been reading that kids act out with the people they trust the most, the ones they feel the closest. For sure a divorce brings up a lots of strong feelings for every one, and kids don't have much way to express their disruptive emotions than through disruptive behavior.
I'm reading an excellent book right now that could give you some insights and help you out; it's" Becoming The Parent You Want To Be, A sourcebook of strategies for the first five years." from Laura Davis and Janis Keyser.

Required Fields

Our records show that we already have a Mamapedia or Mamasource account created for you under the email address you entered.

Please enter your Mamapedia or Mamasource password to continue signing in.

Required Fields

, you’re almost done...

Since this is the first time you are logging in to Mamapedia with Facebook Connect, please provide the following information so you can participate in the Mamapedia community.

As a member, you’ll receive optional email newsletters and community updates sent to you from Mamapedia, and your email address will never be shared with third parties.

By clicking "Continue to Mamapedia", I agree to the Mamapedia Terms & Conditions and Privacy Policy.