Whether they’re cracking jokes, making faces or doing handstands, for some kids with ADHD (also known as ADD), class clown can seem like a role they were born to play. But goofing around in class and elsewhere isn’t all fun and games. Attention-seeking behavior can have real consequences, both in school and out.
Understanding why kids with ADHD seek attention and play the class clown is key. It can help you help your child find better ways to channel his energy and emotions.
ADHD and Seeking Attention
When kids with ADHD draw attention to themselves, they’re usually not trying to be difficult. The funny comments and slapstick routines are a way to draw attention away from the problems ADHD can create. Those problems include impulsivity and hyperactivity, as well as inattention.
Your child may be afraid that his classmates will laugh at him if they realize he forgot his homework, again. He may worry that they’ll think he’s dumb if he can’t answer the teacher’s question because he got distracted. Or that he’s annoying if he blurts something out when he shouldn’t have. Clowning around is often a way to cover for the anxiety and get ahead of criticism.
This behavior might look like:
- Wearing really loud, clashing mismatched socks (and rolling up his pant legs) when he can’t find a matching pair.
- Giving joke answers if he’s called on in class and wasn’t paying attention to the teacher.
- Making a loud, elaborate entrance when he’s late for school.
Being the funny one means you’re not being made fun of. And causing the laughs on purpose makes it easier to feel in control.
ADHD and Playing “Class Clown”
Being funny, theatrical and larger than life can be a benefit of ADHD for many kids. (It’s no coincidence that a lot of actors and comedians have ADHD!) And being the center of attention can feel good—when it’s for the right reasons.
When kids with ADHD play the role of entertainer or “class clown,” they’re actually using a strength to make up for weaknesses. It’s a coping strategy, and one that can create positive reinforcement. Done at the right time, in an appropriate way, it can be a social asset. Kids often find their peers with ADHD to be truly funny—and fun to be around.
But if the positive response they get from others perpetuates a negative behavior, it can be a problem.
If a child is rocking his chair back and falls backwards, for instance, he might cover it by jumping up and yelling, “I meant to do that!” That makes everyone laugh. He used his strength to turn an embarrassing situation into a joke. But if he gets the message that being funny means getting positive attention from his peers, he’s more likely to repeat the performance.
How You Can Help
When your child acts out to get attention, it can irritate the people around him. It can also lead to embarrassing situations—for your child and for you. But there are constructive things you can do to help him recognize and change his behavior. Here are some strategies that can help:
Pin down the behavior. Which classes or activities seem to bring out attention-seeking behaviors? Kids with ADHD seek the spotlight when they’re feeling insecure or are having trouble keeping up. Knowing when your child tends to clown around will help you identify where he’s struggling the most. It can also help you find ways to prevent those behaviors.
Praise strengths, but enforce boundaries. Being funny isn’t a bad thing. In fact, for many kids with ADHD it can be a major strength. Let your child know you’re proud of his talents, but that he should only perform when it’s appropriate.
For example, you might say, “You have a great sense of humor. I love your jokes. But when you tell them in school, it can be disruptive to the class. Next time you think of a funny joke, write it down and tell your friends during lunch. Or tell it to me when you get home.”
Build self-advocacy skills. Kids who play the clown may rely on it to cover up negative feelings. Your child might need help replacing that behavior with positive methods to get support. That process might take time, however. He may feel nervous about asking for help, or not know how to ask.
If your child has trouble keeping up in class, for instance, help him come up with what he can say to the teacher. After class the next day, he might explain that he can’t always stay focused, and may not know where she is in the lesson.
He could also ask if the teacher could avoid calling on him for answers. Another option is asking for advanced notice of what he needs to do to be prepared for class.
Talk to your child’s teacher. Young kids don’t always understand why their behavior is causing problems. Work with the teacher to better understand when your child is clowning around and seeking attention. Make sure the teacher knows about your child's ADHD so she’s able to put these behaviors in context.
Find an outlet. Getting your child into afterschool activities where he can shine can help redirect energy and build confidence. Class clowns might benefit from joining theater or improv classes, or even trying their hand at stand-up comedy!
When kids with ADHD act up, it can be hard to see past the boisterous and impulsive behavior. Showing your child healthy strategies to manage his emotions can give him the tools he needs to think before he acts. It can also build his self-esteem and help him become a better self-advocate.