Why Do Children Act Silly or Show Off?

Photograph by Jeff Woodward.Sometimes, we forget that the children we teach are just that—children. Humor, silliness, playfulness, and showing off are hallmarks of childhood, and we should expect to experience some at every grade.

Just for the fun of it

Children often act silly or show off because these are ways to have fun. They literally need to giggle with friends over something silly that happened, make funny faces that crack everyone up, or tell jokes. Knock-knock jokes in younger grades grow into puns in the middle grades which, in turn, give rise to jokes with innuendo by sixth grade. Although what children find funny changes, most love humorous poems, songs, books, and movies throughout childhood.

For a sense of belonging

Joking and showing off also help children connect to those around them. Children who laugh together feel close to one another, even if only for a moment. For some students, a shared moment of laughter can lead to close friendships. Humor, whimsy, and entertaining others are powerful ways that children get to know each other and solidify their sense of belonging.

For a sense of significance

Showing off and telling jokes are also ways children gain a sense of importance. Some children may only feel special when they’re the center of attention. Being a little more dramatic, a little funnier, or a little more “wild and crazy” is a way for these students to stand out from the crowd.

Silliness, showing off, and child development

Although silliness and showing off appear in every grade, they tend to be more pronounced in first, third, and fifth grades, times when most children are experiencing intensive growth in social areas. In the grades where children tend to be consolidating social growth—second, fourth, and sixth grades—students might actually need their teachers to bring out their humor and help relieve some of the pressure they put on themselves.

Some Child Development Characteristics Related to Silliness and Showing Off

1st grade characteristics (ages 5–7):
  • Love jokes, riddles, guessing games
  • Active; need to move a great deal
  • Concerned with social issues
  • Very verbal; very social
Influence on silliness and showing off:
  • Need an audience to try out new jokes and humor
  • Want to impress certain classmates
  • May need more frequent social outlets than currently provided
3rd grade characteristics (ages 7–9):
  • Tire easily
  • Need to move a lot
  • Very social; concerned with social issues
  • Very verbal; like to explain things
Influence on silliness and showing off:
  • Need more chances to move
  • Are more concerned with social issues than academics
  • Need to process what they’re learning by talking
5th grade characteristics (ages 9–11):
  • Very social
  • Often expressive and talkative
Influence on silliness and showing off:
  • May need to joke and use humor to explain thinking
  • Want to maintain and develop friendships through joking or exaggerating personal strengths

Naturally, children in every grade sometimes make ill-timed jokes, lose themselves in silliness, and show off too much. It takes children time to develop their comedic timing and ability to share center stage. With your guidance, they can learn to channel their natural desire for fun into productive (and still enjoyable) learning.

Tags: 1st Grade, 2nd Grade, 3rd Grade, 4th Grade, 5th Grade, Child Development

18 Replies to “Why Do Children Act Silly or Show Off?”

    • I find that students that want attention from their peers enjoy having a reward of putting a show on for the class. I allow students to earn a certain amount of tallies or tokens to earn the reward. For example, they have to color in 4 circles before they can put on a show. Of course I always follow my classroom management plan if they continue to interrupt learning.

    • Children are being bad they everyday do show off in school they think that they need to look pretty sometimes they wants to wear crop tops , skirts other dresses

      • Children needed to have attention to those people around them & wanna to experience & to really learn more & even when homeschooling

  • This article doesn’t really give any solution, just outlines what I already know

  • I do understand that children need time to play and joke and make sense of the world around them, but when does the being silly go too far and should be reprimanded or corrected? I believe there are appropriate times for students to be silly, but I also believe teachers fail to recognize that students acting silly at inappropriate times could be warning signs for Social Emotional needs. Who teaches the students when is it time to be funny or silly, parents or teachers?

  • As a middle school teacher I definitely see how student’s social and emotional needs can be met by silliness. In my observations some students use it to receive attention, as you stated, and some also use it to deflect attention away from things they feel self-conscious about. I also wonder what strategies could I use that are empathetic to students development, but helps them begin to learn time and place for sillines?

  • This article was helpful in reminding myself of the function of silly behavior, especially in younger elementary students. What I have found in my experiences is that silliness can occur, but once it gets out of hand or the distraction is too great then there almost needs to be “expectations” for when silliness occurs. For example, it is an agreed upon understanding that when something silly happens that we can all engage in it, but once the moment is over the day moves on. I sometimes find myself needing my own reminder that silly behavior is age-appropriate for my kindergarten students. Do you have any suggestions for when things get out of hand?

    • Hello,
      I know time has gone by and you may have figured it out already. You can try getting their attention by shutting the classroom lights, ringing a bell. Than do a short song, short poem or hand clapping with them. Something that you’ve taught them from day 1. It lets them know you want their attention and it’s time to settle down and listen to you. Perhaps don’t wait too long to initiate, before it gets out of hand. Wish you well!

  • My 9 yr. old granddaughter seems to be very silly in her dance classes. She is an exceptional dancer but I’m afraid the teachers will burn out. They don’t complain. I see it

    • My 6 year old is at that stage. Everyone seems to find fault in her behavior, I see it as a kid being a kid. It’s sad how this silliness is considered craze behavior
      What does one do?

  • There is a time and place for everything. Being silly and wanting attention is not BAD but it’s a distraction especially if htey are in some sort of class where there is instruction and a time restraint. As a teacher I see it more and more and I teach third grade. At times there is silliness at inappropriate times and it take away from the instruction and that is not fair to the ones who are learning. We have times built in for this but it seems it’s not enough.

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