The Social Child by Margaret Hart
My son is a total extrovert. He is very social and outgoing and loves to talk and play and have fun doing just about anything. He’s been this way since birth. He started talking at six months, and by 12 months was babbling up a storm, and showed signs of a sense of humor at a very early age.
This has been a blessing, and not so much a blessing. In preschool, his teachers would tell me that he was “silly,” and “talkative” and that, as they worked on teaching the kids good behavior in class, they needed at times to remind him of what was appropriate behavior and what was not. All the kids loved him, and he was, the teachers would tell me, the most popular kid in class.
Just prior to starting Kindergarten, his teacher, a very experienced woman, told me that his socializing wasn’t a problem, that he had a “joy for life.” And that I should be grateful for that because, in her opinion, being social was just as important as doing well academically. She also reassured me that his behavior was “age appropriate.” Raise your hand if you’ve heard any of this before!
His joy for life has continued into elementary school, where he continues to be popular. Kids gravitate to him because of his upbeat and outgoing personality. In turn, he responds, because he loves the attention. As a result, he has, at times, had to be reminded about behaviors in class that might be disruptive. These behaviors almost always involve him talking, laughing or being a little loud. It has never been a problem or adversely affected his schoolwork, but is a topic that comes up every year at parent-teacher conference time.
This year has been no exception. As much as he is making a concerted effort to stay focused on his work and to not let other would-be class clowns encourage him, there are one or two boys in his class who know how to push his buttons. They make silly faces at him, nudge him, call out his name to get his attention and then pick their noses, all in an effort to get his attention. One boy in particular eggs him on because he knows my son loves a good joke, a silly face or funny gesture, and a good laugh as much as the next kid. This boy enjoys getting a reaction out of my son.
I firmly believe other children encourage my son to be silly so that they get to satisfy their inner clown and enjoy the show, while my son gets disciplined by the teacher, who didn’t see everything that happened, but raised her head up when the volume rose.
Today was the third time that I’ve spoken with his teacher about an incident in class. It was during writer’s workshop, when the teacher isn’t paying as close attention to the kids because she meets with children individually to review their work while the rest of the class works on their assignment. According to her, my son was repeatedly laughing and talking when he shouldn’t have been, and caused his group to lose “good behavior stars.” When I asked my son what happened, he burst into tears, strongly denying that he had intentionally caused the disruption. It was the same boy, he said, who was making faces at him, causing him to laugh out loud. He also told me that he finished his work, and that the student sitting next to him asked for his help. When he tried to help, he was disciplined for talking.
My son is not a liar. And the other boy is known to consistently misbehave in class. Last time there was an incident, his teacher and I decided to move my son’s desk away from this boy, and to offer my son an alternate, quiet place for him to do his writing so that he would not be tempted by the other boy. This seemed to work for a few weeks.
For the moment, I have run out of ideas. While I have let my son know that I support him, I have also told him that I expect him to try harder to curb his socializing in class. It’s a difficult issue to manage for me, because I do not want to squash his joyful spirit in any way. I am grateful that he is a social child, comfortable in his own skin, and possessing self confidence. But his outgoing and fun-loving personality draws attention.
I was once a kid who was too talkative in class, and the teacher made me write “I will not talk in class,” a hundred times on a piece of paper. I also chewed gum in class when it wasn’t allowed, and a teacher made me sit on a stool in the back of the room with the gum on my nose for the entire class. I don’t think either strategy helped. But I turned out okay!