Have a toddler who is an angel at daycare, but a rascal at home?

“Angel at Daycare, Rascal at Home!” Why your Toddler Behaves Better at Daycare then at Home

The classic saying, “you’re an angel at school and a devil at home,” might sound familiar to many parents. But why does this phenomenon occur? If you have a toddler who is well-behaved at daycare but becomes a little tricky to handle at home, you’re not alone. This behavior is common and completely normal. But why does this happen? Let’s break it down into simple terms and explore this intriguing pattern of toddler behavior.

The Power of Routine

Daycare centers have a well-structured daily routine 1. From playing to eating to nap time, everything happens at the same time every day when attending child care. This consistent schedule helps toddlers feel secure and understand what’s coming next 2.

At home, routines might be less strict, and changes can occur more often than at quality child care. This lack of predictability could make your child feel unsure, leading to them acting out or throwing tantrums. Maintaining a regular routine at home, similar to daycare, might help improve their behavior.

Friends Make a Difference

Your child's behavior can be heavily influenced by their friends.

Believe it or not, toddlers are very observant and can be influenced by their friends. When your little one is at daycare and sees other kids behaving well, they’re likely to follow suit 3. They want to fit in with their friends and so they copy their behavior.

At home, without friends around to set an example, your toddler might not have the same motivation to behave well. Encouraging social behavior and explaining right from wrong might help them understand how to act even when they’re not around their friends.

Novelty Keeps Things Interesting

The excitement of new toys, games, and activities at daycare often keeps toddlers well-engaged and less likely to misbehave.

The excitement of new toys, games, and activities at daycare often keeps toddlers well-engaged and less likely to misbehave 4. They’re curious and love exploring new things.

In contrast, the home environment with other children might be less stimulating. Things can feel monotonous and less interesting, which may lead to misbehavior or tantrums. Introducing new toys or games at home and varying activities can help keep your toddler interested and well-behaved.

Parent vs. Daycare Teacher Reactions

Parents naturally have a deeper emotional bond with their children than daycare teachers. Therefore, parents often react more emotionally to their child’s behavior, whether good or bad 5. These strong reactions can unintentionally encourage your toddler to continue misbehaving for attention.

Daycare teachers, on the other hand, tend to react more neutrally. This level-headed approach may discourage toddlers from repeating bad behavior as it doesn’t get them extra attention. Modeling a similar approach to early childhood care, at your home, could help improve their attitude.

Testing Boundaries is Part of Growing Up

Toddlers are naturally curious and love to explore their world, which includes testing boundaries 6. They do this more with their parents as they feel safer and more secure at home.

In daycare, they might feel less comfortable pushing limits as the environment is more formal and the rules more strict. Understanding this as a normal part of development in child care can help you manage your toddler’s behavior better at home.

Remember, every child is unique and what works for one might not necessarily work for another. These explanations are general trends and might not apply to every toddler. If your toddler or young child’s behavior at home becomes a concern, don’t hesitate to seek advice from professionals like pediatricians or child psychologists.


  1. Henderson, A., & Mapp, K. (2002). A New Wave of Evidence: The Impact of School, Family, and Community Connections on Student Achievement. Annual Synthesis.
  2. Miller, D. B., & Kelley, M. L. (1994). The use of goal setting and contingency contracting for improving children’s homework performance. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 27(1), 73-84.
  3. Harris, J. R. (1995). Where is the child’s environment? A group socialization theory of development. Psychological Review, 102(3), 458-489.
  4. Wachs, T. D., & Gruen, G. E. (1982). Early experience and human development. New York: Plenum Press.
  5. McCombs Thomas, A., & Forehand, R. (1991). Parental discipline and behavior problems in young children. Journal of Clinical Child Psychology, 20(3), 245-255.
  6. Kuczynski, L., & Kochanska, G. (1990). Development of children’s noncompliance strategies from toddlerhood to age 5. Developmental Psychology, 26(3), 398-408.