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Reality Check: Lil' Jekyll and Hyde

Q. My 2-year-old is an angel at daycare and a devil at home. All day she gets along with the teachers and other kids. But when I get her, she whines and acts up. Why?

Welcome to the club -- many a working parent has lived through the same pick-up-time trauma. I remember bouncing into daycare, treat in pocket, happy and eager to be with my child after a day of missing her, only to have my advances rebuffed. As soon as she laid eyes on me, mild-mannered Dr. Jekyll would morph into a vicious Miss Hyde, whacking that lollipop out of my hand and refusing to come along peacefully. Finally she'd settle down and tell me how much she'd missed me during the day.

So what's it all about? Payback for leaving and going to work? It may be more complicated than that.

In our daily lives, each of us suffers little indignities, and a toddler's no different. She doesn't have a job, a boss, and deadlines, but she has her own pressures: sitting quietly during storytime, sharing, enduring breaches of 2-year-old etiquette, not knowing how to tell time. On top of all that, she misses her mom and dad. So she holds it together emotionally for as long as she has to, and when she no longer has to, she doesn't.

It seems unfair that caregivers and teachers get the best of our children's behavior while we, the parents, get the worst. But take it as the backhanded compliment it is: Your daughter falls apart with you because she knows you'll love her no matter how she acts.

As for how to handle it, just lower your expectations for end-of-day reunions. Don't assume your child will show she's as happy to see you as you are to see her, and give her some room to act out. She'll come around when she's ready -- and when she is, you'll be right there.

Trisha Thompson is a contributing editor to PARENTING magazine and a former editor-in-chief of BabyTalk.