Language Development: The Do’s and Don’ts of Handling the Sillies (and Other Inappropriate Behavior in Children)

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It’s every parent’s most embarrassing moment: there you are, waiting not so patiently in a long line at the grocery store, when one of your children decides to start making explosive sounds suspiciously akin to a cow that’s eaten a pile of Aunt Bee’s 4-alarm chili.

Your child being the dramatist that they are (and of course having had lots of practice despite your best efforts) continues, eventually drawing the attention of your fellow shoppers.

Not exactly ego-gratifying.

Children with weak language development do often lapse into silly, inappropriate behavior. Sometimes this occurs because they are feeling stressed out by a particular situation – meeting your boss at the company picnic for example – and so this is their way of trying to deal with the stress overload.

The other possibility is that the activity provides some sort of pleasure for your child. For example, perhaps your child likes rolling on the floor because they have poor muscle tone, and it’s hard for them to stand for long periods. Or they might be seeking the firm pressure on their body provided by the hard surface.

While these moments are definitely embarrassing for even the most stalwart of parents, here are some do’s and don’ts you should be aware of in order to help bring the situation under control:

1) Don’t tell your child to stop the behavior. While this seems counter-intuitive, it really isn’t. First of all, if telling your child to stop the behavior actually worked, you wouldn’t be in this situation in the first place.

Second, telling the child with weak language development to stop usually leads to confrontation: they want to know why they should stop, and they can’t see why it would bother you since they have trouble viewing things from the other person’s perspective. On top of that, since children with weak language development have difficulty with sequencing, they have a hard time seeing the consequences of their inappropriate behavior.

2) Do try to figure out why the behavior is so pleasurable to your child.

Is your child seeking attention, because they don’t know how to interact appropriately with others? Are they the type that likes a little action, bored by everyday tasks? Are they completely unaware of the effect of their behavior on others, and simply trying to fulfill a sensory need? Is this how they typically react when they face new people or places?

These are the types of questions you should ask yourself when considering why your child acts out this way.

3) Do find another way for your child to satisfy her need in a socially acceptable manner.

If your child tends to roll or lie on the floor, redirect her by giving her a big sandwich hug, or a deep pressure massage. If your child insists on making explosive sounds with her mouth, challenge her to a game of whistling or whispering, or encourage her to pretend she’s blowing out candles on a birthday cake.

4) Do help your child reduce the immediate stress of a social situation.

If your child usually behaves on a higher level, but falls into silly or anxious behavior under stress, try playing a favorite game, or distract your child with a favorite topic of conversation.

5) Do help your child use problem-solving techniques to prevent similar behavior in the future.

Help your child figure out why he feels stressed out in a particular situation. Is it too much noise? Too many people crowding him? Too much light? Once you’ve determined some common triggers, create a signal that your child can use to let you know things are too much.

6) Let your child work out frustrating or frightening situations during pretend play.

Help your child play the role of a strong person: a policeman, a soldier, or a captain, for example, and allow him to boss others around in this role. Doing this will give him a greater sense of control – even if it is only pretend- and will help him feel more comfortable expressing the more confusing feelings of fear and anger during other periods of play.

If despite all of your best efforts, your child still acts out occasionally (and whose child doesn’t?) remember this pithy remark I once overheard from an exasperated parent: “They don’t pay my bills, so I don’t give a flying hoot what they think about me!”

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