A few months ago my son developed a bad case of the rude sillies; I posted about how his silliness went from being intermittent and cute to frequent, obnoxious, and habitual. He was developing a foolishness bug. Happily, the problem has abated almost entirely through a combination of my firmness and habit-breaking efforts and his new lack of exposure to preschool peers whose silliness was excessive.
In working to diminish his rude silliness, I played around with several strategies. One of the best was to lead by example. When he kicked off a bout of silliness, forbidding the behavior often didn’t work well. This was partly because the lines were blurry: often it would start as acceptable fun like singing a nursery rhyme (great!) and convert part-way through to rude showiness that became wild and defiant. It was also because, once fullscale sillines was underway, it was difficult to stop – especially once my two-year old daughter had been pulled into the behavior too.
When words and dialogue go south, one remedy can be to replace the negative speech patterns with positive ones. Especially if silliness is habitual, it can be helpful to model valuable, positive conversation – and pull the child in. This occurred to me when I realized that our children would often spark up a rude-silly endeavors at lunch-time when they were hungry and tired, or during the five minutes at dinner when my husband and I were in discussing details of the day in adults-only mode. They were filling the vacuum with childish foolishness to entertain themselves. On one hand, we needed to train them that behaving foolishly isn’t permissible and that being quiet is sometimes necessary during mealtimes (and we did this); on the other hand, we worked harder to engage them in appropriate conversation. You train by showing what you do wish for a child to do, not by simply forbidding the negative behavior.
I recently came across this from Charlotte Mason’s: “The life of the mind is sustained upon ideas; there is no intellectual vitality in the mind to which ideas are not presented several times, say, every day.” I found this intriguing, and it occurred to me that kids’ silliness is a form of immature boredom. No constructive ideas are going through their heads, so they just seize on whatever notions strike their fancy and make an obnoxious game of it. But intentionally facilitating constructive conversation and expecting (age-appropriate) maturity in dialogue from children can serve as a counter to routine silliness.
I most often dislike redirection as a strategy to address childish misbehavior – because it fails to address the child’s heart and speak to the sin that prompted the actions. In the arena of silliness, however, I find it appropriate and helpful at times. If my son starts up with silliness that I feel may well lead toward obnoxious foolishness, I will often start an actual conversation with him. This serves to remind him of the godly value of words and dialog- and also cuts off impulses to foolishness at the pass.
Likewise I have begun to read books to my children during the second half of their lunch (or dinner, if Dad is absent), after I’ve finished eating myself. Since meals were clearly a problem spot for rude silliness, I decided to experiment with the replacement notion. By inserting concepts and ideas into the empty spaces, the kids become appropriately engaged in something creative and virtuous. Sometimes instead I’ll start a story- “A boy went for a walk and came upon a…” – and let the children insert thoughts in key moments.
Such actions can be taken too far. I am not an entertainer, and the last thing I want to do is train my kids that meals (or any quiet time of the day) is all about their enjoyment and recreation. [I met one mom who plays board games with her children during dinner as a means of getting them to eat, for example, which crosses over the lin in my mind.] Allowing them to develop this expectation would foster an unwelcome entitlement mindset; balance is necessary. I’m mindful not to read books every time, and to insist on appropriate decorum when we don’t have them. Often I will use a book as a reminder and incentive to work toward appropriate meal-time conduct.
Here’s what I find, though: I myself enjoy meals noticeably more when we read a book. It’s only partly because they’re behaving better when I do so; it’s partly also because I like reading the book in those moments as much as they like hearing them (and more than than at other times of day.) Why? Perhaps because of a sociability that it engenders between my children and me, in which we’re all engaged in creative thinking and enjoyable ideas. And while a two-year old is only able to contribute so much constructive conversation, she can take in a book with zeal (and in fact, she attends to it far more when strapped into a high chair than at other times of day). Too, I have fond childhood memories of reading books around the dinner table, passing it from one reader to the next, when the meal was through.
There is a time and place for leading by example. Likewise there’s a time and place for considering the challenges and temptations of our children and working to present healthy, positive alternatives to “spur them on toward… good deeds” and commendable behaviors. So far I’m finding that consciously injecting positive conversations or book in spaces where foolish dialog may otherwise lurk has been one arena in which this type of ‘spurring’ is effective.