This behaviour describes children who have developed the habit of clowning around in class, disturbing their teacher and the other pupils by saying amusing things or acting in silly ways to provoke laughter and amusement. A common view of clowning is that it indicates a child’s desire for attention. If you view clowning in this way, you’ll probably try to solve the problem by telling them to stop, which on many occasions may not help and can even aggravate the problem. It’s possible, however, to view clowning in a very different way – not as attention-seeking behaviour but as the lack of an important skill that all good comedians have.
The skill of having correct timing
Rather than seeking attention, let’s assume that children who engage in clowning possess a genuine desire to appear funny in order to amuse others. If your child disturbs their class by clowning around, it’s reasonable to assume that there’s one important skill they haven’t yet learned: the skill of having correct timing. People who wish to amuse others have to learn how being really funny requires good timing – success depends on waiting for the correct moment to say amusing things or act in silly ways.
Let’s suppose you’re a teacher and you want to stop a child’s clowning around in your class. You could try praising them for having the ability to be funny and amusing. For example, you could say: “It wouldn’t surprise me if you make a career as a stand-up comedian when you grow up.” Starting off with praise makes them more prepared to listen when you tell them about the skill you want them to learn.
Explain that it’s a good time for them to start learning an important skill, a skill that all good comedians must have – the skill of good timing. In practice, this means that when amusing ideas come into a comedian’s head, they’re able to put the ideas on hold, memorise them, and then express them when the time is right. Many comedians carry notebooks for jotting down the funny ideas that pop into their minds, making them easier to remember and use later.
Working with your child, think about how they can learn the skill of having good timing. You could, for example, suggest they learn to jot down the funny ideas that occur to them during lessons so that they can remember them later. You might even offer them an opportunity to relate the amusing things they’ve come up with to an audience – which could be just you or perhaps you and their classmates – at the end of a lesson or the end of the school day.
When children are learning new skills, it’s not uncommon for them to forget the skill they’re engaged in learning and start acting again in the old way. In situations like this, their classmates can help by reminding them about the skill they are learning. Ask your child how, when this happens, they would like their classmates to remind them about the skill.
If you’re a teacher who wants to stop a child clowning around during lessons, you may be more successful if you refrain from criticising them or telling them to stop acting in a silly way.
Try praising them for their ability to be funny and amusing, then suggest they learn the skill of having better timing, of postponing the expression of amusing thoughts and ideas that may have popped into their mind. This skill involves both finding a method for memorising the amusing ideas and having an opportunity to express them to others at a later – and usually much better – time.