Toddler Behavior: Why Does My Baby Behave Better With The Babysitter Than With The Parents?

It's always a shock -- finding out your oppositional little tyke is a perfect darling for the sitter (or grandma). When I found out my usually picky eater ate like a champ at a neighbor's house, I felt embarrassed that I had been complaining about it. It must be me, after all! I worried. Then I realized that our kids have special plans for us -- plans to humiliate, embarrass, and otherwise show us for the idiots we fear we are. And these plans don't stop at toddlerhood, they only get more complex as they get older and wiser. Parents are morons, right? I guess I remember feeling that way about my own parents (sorry, Mom and Dad!)

It helps (a little bit) to know that toddlers act better for others because they love us so much. When they're with the sitter, they "hold it together", waiting for the moment when we return. They put on brave little faces and their best behavior for those temporarily in charge. And then when we return -- look out! All of that stored up stress and worry and upset about our leaving is dumped at the feet of those who caused it. Here's a reader question about the issue from the comments section, posted here in case you missed it:

Hi Dr. Heather,

But he never uses a sippy cup at home!

I could use some advice on getting my baby to drink cow’s milk. He just turned one last week, so I started mixing breastmilk with cow’s milk in equal parts. Our sitter says he drinks it with no problems from a sippy cup, but with us, he doesn’t seem interested in it with either a sippy cup OR bottle. He drinks water from the sippy cup, so I know that he is capable of using it. Same thing with naps…no problem at the sitter, but with us, he puts up a fight. Is it common for babies to behave differently with the sitter vs the parents? Do we just wait him out with the milk until he’s so thirsty that he’ll drink anything? Should I be concerned that he still drinks from a bottle? I’m clueless!

JD

Dear JD,

YES, it’s extremely common -- predictable even -- that your baby will “perform” better for a sitter. The babies save their best — and their worst — for us. They seem to “hold it together” while missing us at the sitter, and then sort of fall apart for us. Refusing things like milk or cups falls into the same category.

But what to do about the milk dilemma? Milk in particular is reminiscent of the early, close bond with mom, and so there is often a special struggle around it. Try VERY SLOWLY introducing the cow’s milk — say one tenth at a time, and wait until you’re SURE he’s used to it, then another tenth. DON’T MAKE AN ISSUE OF IT — don’t mention it, (and try not to show him both milk containers in the kitchen, maybe prepare them in advance) and just try to be matter-of-fact. Slow, steady, but no pressure.

For the cup thing, offer him a sippy of perhaps watered down juice — just a small amount, ALONG WITH whatever he’s used to, at his highchair. It’s a drag to offer both I know, but he’ll start out “playing” with the sippy and eventually get used to actually drinking out of it. And he won’t fear that you’re trying to take away his usual. You can also make a game of it by giving him juice to drink in the tub, or even in the stroller, car etc. Eventually offer the cup more and the bottle less, and offer a lot of praise when he really starts to get the hang of the cup. Also, point out kids he likes when they're using their cups. "Look at Max and his cool Spider Man sippy cup. Max sure looks thirsty!"

Aloha!

Dr. Heather The BabyShrink