Q: Do many third-graders act silly in class and sometimes avoid work? My son's new teacher reached out and said he was being silly and disrupting others. She also said sometimes he will not do work during quiet work time. We will be meeting with her and asked him what he thought was going on. He said he wanted to be silly and thought it was funny. We said, "Being silly is okay during certain times, but when a teacher has 20-plus kids, it is hard for her. Can you try to help her?" We asked and he said he would try. He said nothing really is bothering him aside from the fact that he doesn't like that this year they don't have free choice. Can this be remedied, and how? If so, how long is the process? I'm hoping for this year to get better and not worse.

A: Do many third-graders act silly in class and sometimes avoid work? My heavens, yes, and why do these 8- and 9-year-olds act so silly in school? Without mincing words, the fact is that school is boring. No, not every school and every teacher is boring all the time, but way too many schools have way too many kids sitting for way too long. And what will happen when kids get squirrelly and bored? Shenanigans. Boredom, lack of choice and the inability to move the body will turn a “well-behaved” child into a “silly” child, and fast.

Is every child silly because every child is bored? No. Some 8-year-olds have more energy than others, some are more outgoing than others, and some need more attention than others. There can be sensory issues, attention issues, anxiety, giftedness, learning disabilities and other issues at play as well. The teacher can be engaged as all get-out, and the child will still have “bored” misbehaviors.

So, what is happening with your son? I don’t know. You don’t say anything about his behavior last year, and I am hoping the talk with the teacher yields some more insights. Sometimes, parents get a call from the school about an incident or a few and make it into a “global problem.” We assume that our children are now a problem, that they are going to be a problem and that we need to take big action. This may not be the case at all. I am always asking about frequency, duration and severity of behaviors when I talk to parents, because when we begin to work with the actual details, we often see that our children are not a problem, and we don’t need a remedy. We can chalk the behavior up to “being young and immature” and move on, or, if the frequency, duration and severity of the behaviors demand, we can work with reality, not just worry.

How long is the process to remedy misbehavior and shenanigans? Ummmm, a lifetime? No, seriously, there is no remedy, at least not in the way I think you may be imagining it.

First, I don’t have any problem with the way you talked with your child at home; there is nothing wrong with inviting a child to have more perspective and empathize with the teacher. But we cannot expect the child to shoulder the majority of the changing here. If it emerges that the child is one of many misbehaving in the classroom, we don’t have a “your child” issue, we have a “teacher leadership” issue. If, though, it emerges that your child is the primary problem, he needs support and encouragement to belong to the class in a productive way, not a silly way. Can he be given more jobs? Is he allowed to have movement breaks? Are there acceptable times to be silly? As you become more familiar with what is really happening with your son, you won’t remedy the problems as much as you will find real-time solutions that will change and adapt over time.

Whatever you do, don’t do too much shaming about your son’s misbehavior at home. Talk about and rehearse alternatives to the silliness with your son, and keep giving examples of times to be funny and times to be more serious. Time will do its work here; keep supporting your son and the teacher.

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