April 7, 2012

Why do my children behave better on their own?

This spring break each of my children went to a friend's for a sleepover. AJ went Tuesday night and Camryn went Thursday night.

Mark and I both noticed, both nights, that both of our children were perfect angels for us.

They listened. They did what they were told. They used their manners. And they did NOT whine.

It was fantastic!

Thursday night while Cami was away, we took AJ out to McDonald's for dinner. In the middle of eating I leaned over to Mark and asked, "Why are they so much easier when it's only one of them?" He didn't have an answer. On the way home, our little boy happily sitting in the back seat, I decided to ask him.

I always wanna know why. Even from a 6-year-old.

Me: Hey AJ, how come you're more well behaved when Cami isn't around?

AJ: I dunno.

Me: Well, you've been such a good boy since she left. You've listened to us and been polite. Just now you didn't whine a bit when it was time to leave McDonald's. The other night when you were gone, she was the same way. How come you guys can't be the so good when you're together?

AJ: Well, she's always making me mad.

Me: But WHY?

AJ: Well, um, we're all born with problems. And um, me and Camryn have a fighting problem.


Mark: But you don't need to fight.

Me: Yeah, I know you guys like each other too.

AJ: But she always does things....like when Daddy asks for someone to get his sandals, she always gets in my way so she can do it.

Mark: Yeah, she does do that. I'm sorry, little man.

Me: Still, I don't see why you guys can't listen to us and do what you're told when you're both home.....

But we pulled into the driveway, so I didn't get an answer to that one.

Guess it's tough to be the younger sibling.

On the other hand, AJ's no wallflower.

When Camryn got home, we posed the same question to her.

Cami: AJ....

Me: No. Wait. First, it's not all his fault. Second, it's not only about how you interact with each other, it's also about how you interact with US. Why are you both more respectful when the other isn't around?

Cami: Silence.

Me: Sigh.

Does anyone else know why it's different when one is home and one is gone. Mark said something about competition. Competing for what? Who can get yelled at first?

It makes no sense to me!

PS: Dad, do NOT comment that this is why you had only one child!


  1. Duh...Really, Jen - NO clue? You are quiet and polite because you were an only. they are loud and obnoxious because they're NOT.

    1. Yeah, I don't know these things BECAUSE I'M AN ONLY!

  2. I'm not saying nuttin!

    Oh right.....well, long enough I guess. Hey, kid behaviour 101. Attention is the name of the competition and it does not matter what kind. Once received, not only is the personal score increased, but control is also verified at that time. Payoffs in every direction. It's a frickin jackpot. Don't get the control part? You are a marionet. You always do the same thing to the thing they do. They push the button, you respond in a completely predical manner, they feel very smart and powerful. They are little people who rule, and they get away with it because they are little people. It really is quite a perfect arrangement from their viewpoint. One more thing. There is not anything more humorous for them than this game, because they are fully aware that it is a game, but you appear to take it quite seriously, which they find hilarious.

    BTW, this is almost every family USA, so don't feel too bad.

    Do you deserve such behaviour? Absolutely not! The only reason they can play this game is because you love them so!

    Can you make them stop? I have no idea if there is a legal way to pursue that! They have the upper hand there. Can't evict them. Can't bury them in the backyard. Bummer!

    They even keep up the same tired old excuses when you've had enough. And you guys try your best to attend to the details of those excuses (in the cause of fairness, a good cause, just doesn't have anything to do with the game really). Was it Camryn that did that thing she does so often to wind AJ up? Did AJ lash out inappropriately? The answer to both questions (yes, BTW) is completely immaterial to the game at hand, but they love it that you care enough to give it a go. The real answer is that it does not matter. There is no excuse for violence (okay, self defence, but we're not talking that are we?). She knows how to annoy him and does when it suits her purposes. That does not excuse the things that AJ does. Okay, so do you see a hint of solution from this. They should both be punished, not one then the other next time or sometimes or whatever. Make it a lose-lose, where neither gets a payoff, and it will stop. Put emphasis on win-win for the good behaviour, and you have a complete system for reinforcing the behaviors you desire. You get to be in control. Be careful! They can smell weakness!

    I think this all has something to do with what Renee said. Something about growing up with rude brothers, I'm sure.

    1. Oops, Forgot to sign. "Love, Dad" And where did I learn to spell predictable (predical?). Really?! Don't know if I would listen to this guy. Doesn't seem to be all there.

    2. You're part Canadian, aren't you, Dad? "Behaviour"

  3. Dad is absolutely correct. It is all about attention. Positive, negative, it doesn't matter. So, since we tend to be reactive, instead of proactive, the key is which "active" will we choose to be. When I worked as a behavior therapist for individuals diagnosed with developmental disabilities, I created elaborate behavior plans/programs. The key here is consistency in rewarding the behavior that you want. Back then, before I created my own little attention seekers, I could not understand why parents were not consistent. Two children, one husband, and an elderly mom later, I understand. Oh how I understand. Still, if we (self included) could remain consistent, the plans work, the unwanted behavior diminishes, and we all become happier. This, in turn reinforces the positive behavior, and encourages us to be more consistent. That said, I have neglected my own offspring for too long today and must tend to my chores. :-D


    1. It seems everything comes back to consistency, doesn't it?

  4. Absolutely. And it sure would be nice if I could be more consistent with something other than responding to texts or messages online :))

  5. I understand this all too well!! Our kids do the exact same thing. They dearly love each other (or at least that's what I tell them) but they fight when they are together sometimes. Then when you get them alone, they are angels. Angels I tell you! I don't get it either.

  6. Love your PS. Mine always behaves way better when one of his friends is over. Guess that is not helping but adding to the mystery.

  7. Consistency is not the answer. You have consistently implemented the losing program. Sympathy for AJ being picked on by big sister who should know better has been your consistent plan thus far. Not working. He now loves that he has a way to get back at big sister, so he screams foul every chance he gets. Meantime, Camryn does not stop her behavior (see, I can spell it that way) because she is going to get in trouble either way, may as well be for something, so she makes sure she gets in a hit on AJ.

    Defuse it. Either punish them both, or separate them from playing together. Separation worked for my parents with a problem between my older brothers and I when I was a little guy. My brothers were so much bigger than I, that it was somewhat inevitable for them to squish me occasionally when we would wrestle and stuff. I would scream bloody murder, parents would scream at my older brothers. They got sick of it, and had a talk with my Dad. Dad brought me into his office and explained to me that if I came screaming from being squished again, that he would quit letting me play with the big boys.

    End of problem.

  8. More focus on positive behavior is the best route. Find an individualized behavior plan appropriate for the age of each child (the internet is full of great behavior programs). Follow it consistently. There will be less need for punishment. Set "alone" time aside with each child once a week, or even once a month (i.e. lunch, movie, etc.) I ran a program consisting of 96 young adults who suffered from a developmental disability, in addition to holding a diagnosis of a mental illness. The programs work, as long as we are consistent, and as long as the reward is appropriate.

  9. I DO agree with Zoe. Consistent practice of a good strategy is important.

    I was just remembering the definition of insanity, wihich goes someting like, "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over expecting a different outcome." I'm into behavioral psychology, which emphasizes an experimental approach to adjusting motivation as the key to changing behavior.

    Randy (Dad)