Ask the expert: ‘My 10-year-old son is the class clown and always in trouble’

‘I constantly have to coach my son about his manners. He can be quite rude at times’

Children with delayed social skills are often seen as ‘bold’ or ‘troublesome’ in class, when it would be better to treat them like any other children who are behind in certain developmental areas. Photograph: iStock

Children with delayed social skills are often seen as ‘bold’ or ‘troublesome’ in class, when it would be better to treat them like any other children who are behind in certain developmental areas. Photograph: iStock

 

Q. I am concerned about my 10-year-old son who can be really immature sometimes and is always acting the class clown. He loves to make everyone laugh but I feel that he cannot recognise the difference between people laughing at him or laughing with him. He is the one who acts out and gets into trouble in school. I constantly have to coach him about his manners. He can be quite rude at times and I feel he doesn’t realise it.

He has just started fourth class and he loves school. He is doing well in all areas of the curriculum and in his school report every year he scores highly on all subjects except one. His social and emotional behaviour has always been a score of 1 since junior infants. This is the first year I have shown him his school report and he wasn’t happy that he got a low score. On the first day of school this year he said his aim for the year is to score higher in his social and emotional behaviour.

I try to encourage play dates in our home, but I find myself coaching him in relation to his behaviour. It’s quite difficult to explain but I might quietly tell him he’s overdoing things. For example, if they are playing soccer and he trips and gets a laugh, my son will keep tripping hoping to get more laughs and just ends up overdoing it to the point that his friends get frustrated and tell him to cop on. Also, if things don’t go his way in a game, he will always deem something to be “not fair” and a row will break out. He has a very low frustration tolerance.

I could write a book on him. Don’t get me wrong, he is a kind and loving child but I just feel at the age he is at now he needs to manage himself better and I want to be able to help him do that. He finds it hard to recognise stop signals and ends up being annoying and I feel this is affecting his friendships. I worry also that his self-esteem will be affected in the long term. What should we do to help him?

A. In your full question (which I have edited above), you gave a detailed and sensitive picture of your son’s abilities and problems. As has been picked up on his school report, and as you suggest, I think the central issue is that his social/ emotional skills are relatively immature for his age and this is getting him into trouble. All the problem behaviours you listed such as acting the class clown, not knowing when to stop a joke, finding it hard to lose, not knowing when he has become annoying with friends etc, all fit with this.

As you say yourself, he finds it hard to pick up on social signals and clues which are the basis of good social skills. Unfortunately, children with delayed social skills are often seen as “bold” or “troublesome” in class or other social situations, when it would be better to treat them like any other children who are behind in certain developmental areas. Just like a child who might be behind with his reading, so your son would benefit from an empathic response and extra support to help him learn and to make up the gap with his peers.

Working with your son’s school

Helping your son learn social skills

1. Using good manners – saying please and thank you.

2. Behaving well in class – putting his hand up, waiting his turn, etc.

3. Learning to lose well – congratulate the child who has won, etc.

4. Enjoying a joke but stopping it when other children become annoyed.

You may want to first focus on ones that might be easier for him to learn ( probably 1 and 2 from the list above) and work towards harder ones (probably 3 and 4).

Coaching your son

In addition, if you search online there are lots of great games and worksheets to teach children social skills such as “emotional charades” or “social skills detective” games. In addition, you are right to continue to “scaffold” and support some of his social interactions so these can be set up for success. For example, if he is having a friend over, you might prepare him to think through what he might play and to anticipate how he might behave in problem situations.

While you don’t want to over-intervene when the other child is there, you have the option of calling him aside occasionally (when the other child is occupied) to provide guidance. In addition, taking time to reflect after a social event is a good way to help him learn – what went well; what would he do differently?

Dr John Sharry is a social worker and psychotherapist and co-developer of the Parents Plus programmes. He will be delivering talks on Positive Self-Esteem in Cork on November 4th and Dublin on the November 30th. See solutiontalk.ie for details