It’s back to school time after a long, chaotic, not-so-well-behaved summer. I’ve started to worry my wild animals will wreck havoc in the classroom. But then I remember, that’s not how it works. Despite their inability to listen to anything I say at home, they somehow follow the rules at school. So if this is you fellow parents — fear not. We’ve got this.
Let me tell you a story: I think I held my breath the entire walk down the school hallway to my second-grade son’s parent-teacher conference. These things stress me out. With four pretty expressive and explosive kids (two of whom are in elementary school), I usually prepare for the worst. So with half a butt cheek hanging off an elementary school chair and my way-too-tall legs shoved under the little table, I folded my hands, made eye contact with his teacher, took a deep breath, and braced for impact.
She started off by handing me a sheet with some graphs and numbers. After a quick glance, I felt like we were okay, at least in the academic benchmark department. Then she went on to talk about his friendships, his politeness, and his kindness. A little positive before the negative, I thought — great strategy, I respect it. Then came some suggestions about books to read at home for active reading engagement, and then she asked me if I had any questions.
That was it — an absolutely stellar review of a student who is non-explosive, rarely upset, and overall very respectful. So then why is he kind of a demon at home?!
And okay, demon is dramatic. I mean, I adore him. But holy sh*t, at home he is hard. His volatility is unmatched, with a short fuse and a complete inability to hide any raw emotions. Finding out he needs to accompany me to the grocery store doesn’t result in an eye roll — he’s been known to fully Hulk out, yelling, throwing stuff, and stomping around. And if a sibling razzes him at the dinner table, forget it. We’re going MMA title match before anyone takes their next bite. And he’s fresh! He has a wise-ass answer for basically any ask or demand we through his way. (Though, to be fair, it’s usually pretty funny.)
So how, then, is he so well-mannered and well-behaved at school?!
But after talking to a few friends, it seems like this might be a thing. Lots of my friends (and yes, I surround myself with parents of other mischievously astute and strong-willed children) reported getting wonderful reviews from teachers despite a lot of not-so-wonderful behavior at home.
Child therapist Lindsay Adams explained this phenomenon known as, “restraint collapse” in a now-viral TikTok. “They are on their best behavior or masking or whatever words you want to use for it, keeping their feelings in all day at school. They come home. They take off their backpack and all their big feelings fall out of it,” Adams explains.
The Child Mind Institute suggests that children with learning or behavioral issues can often benefit from the structure of school, making home a more difficult place where they are unable to regulate themselves as well. For my son, this makes a lot of sense, given his ADHD.
So I guess that all makes sense. But God, it’s still so hard. Because while I am of course so thankful that he is behaving so well in school — it causes a great deal of stress to the whole family when he is acting so chaotic and explosive at home. But now that I have (potentially) figured out why this is happening, hopefully it will make it easier to remedy. Wish me luck.
Samm is an ex-lawyer and mom of four who swears a lot. Find her on Instagram @sammbdavidson.