Understanding and Preventing Silly-Clowning Behavior

Why Children Clown

  • Seeking attention: When children act silly they almost always will get attention. Many children only feel good about themselves when they know others are paying attention to them.  Even negative attention is rewarding. Some parents may overreact and have a very negative, punishing reaction to the behavior. This may make clowning behavior more likely, as the child may try it to get back at the parent and revenge the punishment. Also, friends may encourage your child to act foolishly. This type of reaction from peers will reinforce clowning in a child who is lonely and craves attention.
  • Habitual silliness: Young children are often silly and will be more so if they see the behavior in their friends. Some children never learn more appropriate ways to get attention and mature types of humor. They may believe the only way they will be noticed is to get people to laugh at them for how they behave.
  • Diverting attention: Some children act foolishly to take attention away from problems. A child who is afraid his parents might hurt each other may try to be the comic relief in a tense situation.  Children may also try to take attention away from any inadequacies they have. For instance, if they are afraid their classmates think they are not very smart, at least they can make them laugh.

Give Attention 

Show how to give and get attention. Pay attention when people are speaking and show your appreciation.  Make comments like, “That was really nice how you were quiet while I was on the phone.” These types of statements will help reduce silly behavior for the purpose of attention-getting. You will see attention-seeking diminish as you pay more positive attention. Your child will feel more self-confident and comfortable. Remember that it is fine to give positive attention for occasional clowning behavior.

It is normal and healthy for young children, and even older children and adults, to act silly sometimes. But show appreciation for the other, quieter things your child does as well. Compliment your child on drawings, on reading a book, on cleaning up his or her room, etc. 

In addition, if you ignore a certain behavior, it will diminish. Combine ignoring silly behavior with praising desired behavior. “I love to hear you practicing the trumpet.” “Your homework looks very neat.” When your child feels appreciated for all the other things he does, he will be less likely to act like a clown. 


Schaefer, C. E., Ph.D. and H. L. Millman, Ph.D. How to Help Children with Common Problems