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

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?

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
It would be useful to meet your son’s teacher and to review his needs and what supports could be put in place to help him. The school has a number of options that might benefit. For example, they might be able to refer him for assessment to an educational psychologist or provide your son individual support (via resource teacher) or do a formal social skills programme with him. There are lots of evidence-based social skills programmes that can be done in schools such as Friends for Life or Stop Think and Do that can be delivered to

There are lots of evidence-based social skills programmes that can be done in schools such as Friends for Life or Stop Think and Do that can be delivered to individual or small groups of children. Sometimes schools arrange to give whole class inputs on social skills as these skills are of benefit to all children. The National Educational Psychological Service provides guidelines on setting up social skills groups in schools (see education.ie).

Helping your son learn social skills
There is a lot you can do to help your son develop his social skills, particularly now that he is 10 and he is more aware of the problems. Use school report as an opportunity to help him reflect and set goals for himself. It is great that he has set himself the aim of scoring higher on the emotional behaviour scale this year.

The next step is to try to get a more detailed picture of the skills he needs to learn (it would be useful to work with the teacher about this). This might include:
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
Your son will continue to need supportive coaching to help him learn social skills. The key is to be positive and supportive rather than nagging and critical. There are lots of proactive strategies you can adopt such as reading children’s books together and then helping him reflect on the social skills – why did the boy act like that in the story? How did it make the other boy feel? What would be a better way to act to make him feel better?

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?

John Sharry, Irish Times Newspaper, October 2016. John writes in the Irish Times Health+ every Tuesday.
For further information on John’s courses visit: www.solutiontalk.ie