Written by Doctor G

My Class Clown Won’t Shut Up!

Hi Dr. G, My 4 year old boy is an amazingly smart, social, fun kid who LOVES to entertain and be the center of attention. Now that he is in Pre-K, his teacher is having a really hard time getting him to listen in class because he is always trying to be funny for his classmates. I’ve read through your site, and I think your assessment of “impulse control” is spot on for him. Do you have any suggestions for working with him on control? As a side note, his teacher really partners with my husband and I so that there is complete consistency between what he experiences at school and at home…but we’re running out of ideas! We obviously don’t want to stifle his fun loving spirit, but we really want him to be consistently respectful of authority (without throwing a huge tantrum, if that’s possible!). Any advice you can lend would be so very appreciated. Thanks!

Anonymous, in IL

Impulse control is hard! At least, that’s my own excuse and I’m sticking to it. 😉

How can you teach your son to control his impulses more often? I have three suggestions:

1. Sign him up for a martial art. Karate, eskrima, tae kwon do, visit a few dojos in your area and talk to the sensei (teacher) about the curriculum. Many martial arts programs focus on teaching character and values. Make sure that their values match yours, and ask what they do specifically to teach impulse control. This is a central focus of most martial arts and your son will get great lessons in ways to control himself. If he thinks the uniform and skills are cool, you’ll be well on your way to encouraging him to want to control himself. This works even better if one or both parents take classes at the same dojo. That way he will see that you really do value this, and you will have the language and skills to reinforce what he is learning.

2. Pick one goal at a time and make a contract with your son. “First, sweet-child-of-ours, we are going to work on not talking when an adult is talking.” Give him a nonverbal signal that he may use when he wants to interrupt. At school this is probably raising his hand. At home, we have taught our boys to lay a hand on a grown-up’s forearm. If I’m talking and one of my sons does this, I can look at him to acknowledge him and still finish my thought. Make it clear that this is the expectation. Start with praise when he remembers and make some clear (but not very harsh) consequences for when he forgets.

3. Notice all the times he DOES control his impulses already! If he calls you from his bed but doesn’t get out of bed, notice that out loud. If he yells but doesn’t hit, mention it. If he interrupts but then waits when you tell him to wait, thank him for that part later. Link impulse control to being a big boy! All kids want to be seen as more mature, and this is a really mature skill he is trying to learn.

Don’t forget to tell him all the things you love about his personality even while you are working to improve his control. These are not mixed messages, and will serve to hold up his spirit while you mold his behavior.

Anyone else have a kid who works hard to control his or her impulses?

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7 thoughts on “My Class Clown Won’t Shut Up!”

  1. Great tips! My twins, almost 4, are also very impulsive. And even worse, they feed off of each other. So at preschool when one of them abandons an activity or tries to get up from circle time, the other eventually follows suit. Thanks for the tips, Dr G!

  2. I loved everyone of your tips.
    My now 38 year old son needed help with impluse control. Martial arts was an enormous help. I was told that when taught properly the student will have enough control to walk away from the situation. Some worry about the kids doing Karate chops on everyone.They learn when to defend themselves, not to randomly hit someone.
    I like your tip on choosing one thing to focus on . I call it “catch ’em being good.”
    I enjoyed reading your posts. Mlaika Bourne

    1. I have also heard adult concerns that kids who act out will only get stronger and worse behaved with martial arts training. I have found the opposite to be the case. The kids learn that knowing what they could do relieves them of showing what they could do. The teachers command respect and teach the children to command it as well.

  3. Love the signal idea for interrupting. My son is terrible about it and once he gets started it’s almost impossible for him to stop. It’s borderline OCD.

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