Clowning Around: Helping Our Kids Manage Behavior

On occasion, we answer reader questions on our blog. We choose questions based on the issues we frequently hear about from families we work with. In today’s post, I answer a parent’s question regarding a child who loves to entertain and needs some guidance around when he can do that.


Dear Sarina,

Well, it turns out I've raised a Class Clown! My 2nd grader is more interested in entertaining his friends than paying attention in class, in gymnastics, and in after-school activities.

There are worse problems to have of course, but it's becoming an issue more and more often. It's not so much what he's doing, but the fact that he doesn't know when to quit. Any good exercises for self-control or paying attention to what's going on around you?

Dear Reader,

Thank you for writing to us with such a great question! Sounds like you have a creative and outgoing son who just needs a little coaching on when and where it is appropriate for him to share his talents. While his humorous approach may be causing problems for him, this is a wonderful opportunity to help him build his self-control and self-discipline skills.

The first step in helping our children learn to regulate their behavior is to help them gain awareness of the thoughts and feelings that are motivating those behaviors. It can be very challenging to stop a given behavior when we are not yet aware of why we are doing it.

One of my favorite strategies for helping children draw awareness to their thoughts and feelings is to play a game called Freeze. Here’s how it works:

When you guys are home, introduce the idea of anyone being able to call out freeze. Everyone has to stop talking and still their bodies. Then have each person “notice” what is going on around him or her. You might notice that the room was loud. A sibling might notice that they can't get their brother's attention. Your son might notice that he is feeling really happy. In the beginning, the goal is to just get people practicing the concept of freezing and noticing, without any judgment as to whether what they notice is right or wrong.

As this game is being introduced, I would play with it in a fun way. You could say, “I want to teach you this new way that any of us can stop a situation that feels overwhelming or stressful. Anyone in the family can say freeze and everyone has to stop what they are doing for a minute. We will say one thing we notice about the situation.” Be sure to really make it a game as you introduce it. Tell your son to get as silly as he can and see how quickly he can stop his body/voice when someone says freeze. Reverse it and you act silly, loud, crazy and he gets to yell freeze. Make it fun and silly.

As you get more practice, add some feeling words to the description of what is happening. You could say, “It’s loud in here and I feel overwhelmed.” Help your son name his feelings as well. His feeling may be "I am so happy, it’s hard to sit still.” It’s ok if his feeling in the moment and yours don’t match up. The idea is to just build this skill of being able to notice what we are feeling in ourselves and what those around us might be feeling.

As he gets better at describing what his feelings in moment, you can now begin to have deeper conversations about feelings. Sometimes we are so frustrated with our child’s behavior, that we overlook the feeling behind it. It may be helpful to share with your son that all feelings are ok, but we need to be mindful of when and how we express them.

Some great questions to spark conversation are: What are the appropriate ways we can express our feelings? Are there places and times that are better for acting on our feelings than others? Could he plan a regular silly time after school? Would he like to have friends over for a stand up comedy show, or do one at recess?The one that might help him the most in the moment is what can he do when he has the urge to do something but it’s not the right time? Maybe he can write a word or two down so he can remember his silly joke at recess and tell friends then. The more you invite his ideas, the more likely he is to recall and use them in the moment.

Our long-term goal as parents is not to rid our children of the habits that bother us, nor is it to decide which feelings are acceptable. Instead we can focus on what skills our children need to manage their behavior.

The goal of playing freeze is really about helping your son:

- Notice his feelings and desires in the moment.

- Be able to stop and reflect when he is feeling them.

- Assess when a good time to express those feelings and desires might be.

- Still get to do the things that he enjoys but find a way to do them at an appropriate place and time.

Thanks again for sharing your question with us and we hope your little comedian continues to find joy in making people laugh. Laughter is one thing we can all use throughout life!