True. Recently though I was faced with a new habit of over-the-top silliness from my four-year-old that prompted some serious reflection. Here’s what happened: the normal four-year-old silliness that was routine for my son suddenly started escalating. It went from being intermittent, genuinely cute (most of the time), and short-lived to suddenly being frequent and obnoxious. I deduced that one or several children in his preschool class had pretty high silliness quotients and he had absorbed this behavior and begun to find it funny and entertaining.
The first day or two of elevated silliness, I found myself annoyed and a bit caught of guard. Why was my son behaving in such an irksome way? He wasn’t doing anything wrong exactly, just bouncing around and saying random nonsensical syllables in a showy manner. Whenever there was a quiet moment he’d start in. Eventually I said to him: “There’s silly fun and there’s silly rude. Silly fun is fine but silly rude is not. And you are being silly rude. Do you understand?” He did.
But it kept up. He’d gotten an overkill silliness bug into his system and was having a hard time dropping it. Eventually I figured out that it was becoming a bad habit and that he wasn’t able to differentiate between the two kinds of silliness. “Silly fun” immediately transformed itself into “silly rude,” the moment he began. I realized I was going to have to cut him off cold turkey. “We’re taking a break from silliness right now,” I said. “No silliness for a while.” I felt like a killjoy and a Grinch mom – this was the week before Christmas – but felt it had to be done to restore him to the previously pleasant child to have around. Of course he didn’t like it and found it very difficult to stop for the first few days… such is the power of habit. But he got past it in about 4 or 5 days and after that things were fine and “fun silliness” returned in an appropriate way; he regained his control and his discernment.
Here’s the conversation I had with my son on this topic the day I imposed the silliness fast, one I probably won’t forget. We were sitting putting stamps on Christmas cards while his little sisters napped.
Me: “The Bible has a name for people who act silly all the time; do you know what it is? A fool. There are two kinds of people, the Bible says: fools and wise people.”
My son: “Wise, you mean like the wise men who brought Jesus gifts?”
Me: “Yes, just like them. They got to do such a cool thing like be some of the first people to visit baby Jesus was because they were wise. Do you think they were hopping up and down the whole time and saying ‘do do da da’ on their way to see him?'”
My son, smiling: “No.”
Me: “That’s why it’s important for you to think about how you act and what you say… so you can grow up to be a wise man like them. Being wise is very important to God.”
The thing about silliness, I realized, is that while it’s a fine and fun thing for children in itself, it can turn into lots of less-than-good things if it gets carried away. For example:
- Show-off-ness. A child wants to draw others’ attention to himself, a form of pride and selfishness, and is using abundant silliness as a subtle means to do it.
- Muddled communication. At the height of this episode my son was responding with silliness instead of the matter-of-fact conversation that was normal for him. Have you ever been around a kid who responds, every time you try to talk to him, with some goofiness and drivel? This kid is on his way to becoming the “chattering fool (who) comes to ruin” of Proverbs (10:8)
- Foolishness. Silliness on overdrive can indeed lead to foolishness – it can begin to take over the way a person talks and thinks and interacts with others. Silliness can become fun, entertaining, ad habit-forming to the person engaging in it – a way to kill boredom. “The mouth of a fool feeds on folly” (Prov 15:14), and we want our kids mouths to be feeding on more constructive and godly things.