When Karen Tamplin’s* son, Kevin, was in grade seven, he and his best friend were the class clowns, able to break up an entire class with a look, a quip, a joke. “It was such a rush for Kevin to discover he had this power, that he could make other people laugh,” recalls Tamplin.
Every school has one — the class clown who can bring down the house just by walking through the door. However, it may be that his teacher is finding the constant stream of jokes and pratfalls disruptive, and she’s called you in for a chat.
First, parents should ask if this is something new. In some cases, a child who suddenly becomes the class clown may be diverting attention from a learning problem, says Christina Rinaldi, a University of Alberta educational psychology professor in Edmonton. “If, for instance, he’s goofing around only in social studies class, he’s probably finding the material too challenging, or not challenging enough.” If the problem is pervasive and ongoing, further investigation — including testing for learning issues or counselling — may be needed if you suspect the behaviour is masking a deeper issue, says Rinaldi.
* Name changed by request.
Difficulty making friends
“It may also be that a child is having difficulty making friends or maintaining peer relationships, and this is a way for him to gain some attention,” says Rinaldi.
When you meet with the teacher, you might also ask:
• Is the humour good-natured or at the expense of someone else?
• Is he getting his school work done and making a positive contribution to the class?
• Does your child simmer down when asked?
If the answers are yes, and you’re pretty sure the use of humour isn’t masking a social or learning problem, then talk with your child about using his gift appropriately.
It’s important to support the teacher and your kid, says Rinaldi. You don’t want to send the message that the teacher’s just too rigid or has no sense of humour. By the same token, it’s important to let your child know that you’re not just trying to shut him down.
Rinaldi says, “While it’s true that what one teacher might take in stride another will find disruptive, it’s important for kids to learn how to adjust their behaviour in different social situations. It may be that in this classroom with this teacher, he just needs to tone it down. That’s a good social skill to have.’”
Develop a plan
But often, more than a talk is needed, says Rinaldi. Parents and teachers can also come up with a plan, something the teacher can use in the classroom and the parents can support at home. For instance, they might use a private signal that tells the child that this is not a good time to be cracking jokes. Others will give kids a logbook where they can jot down the jokes and ideas that come into their heads, instead of shouting them out in class.
Often the behaviour will lessen in the classroom if kids are given an outlet to exercise their funny bone. Rinaldi encourages parents to look for an acting or comedy class. Tamplin says Kevin’s buddy’s parents did just that and, at 13, he was performing in comedy clubs. Today, you know him as Seth Rogen, the star of Knocked Up and other Hollywood comedies. And Kevin? “He’s still a really funny guy!” says his mom, with a laugh.