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Most kids my son's age (six) seem to have a degree of natural self-consciousness that helps them regulate their behavior. By this, I mean when they are in an unfamiliar situation, they tend to hang back and observe, taking their cues from other people to determine how to behave. It's sort of a mild fear of not blending with the crowd.

My son has absolutely none of that fear. You might consider that to be a good thing, but the fear serves an adaptive purpose, and one extreme is as bad as another. It makes him frequently do crazy things in inappropriate situations (he's the kid who yells "Hi" to his parents from the stage then starts entertaining himself with a loud game), which makes other kids tend to shun him out of fear of getting in trouble, and makes other parents wary of letting their kids spend time with him. In other words, it's affecting him socially, which is very hard for him.

It also means we are constantly correcting him, because it plain doesn't occur to him that something like making repeated loud funny noises with your chair when your sunday school class is about to perform a song would be inappropriate. I try to explicitly tell him the social rules for a new situation, which helps, but only for a short while.

Is there anything we can do to help him learn to respond appropriately in these situations, without explicitly being told then constantly corrected? The only thing I can think of is more practice, but honestly, it's getting to the point where his behavior makes me not want to let him participate.

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What is it exactly that you are afraid of? People get hurt from time to time while growing up to be adults (and then still, but who is parenting them then ;) ). As long as he is learning from it, I would say all is ok. I would not put consciousness in the title of the question, but rather self-reflection. –  Mike de Klerk Dec 23 '13 at 14:23
    
@Mike, if it were time to time it wouldn't concern me. This is a continuous, pervasive issue for him. Also, he isn't learning from it. –  Karl Bielefeldt Dec 23 '13 at 16:08
    
@balancedmama, sometimes when he makes a comment about being lonely, we explain the connection to him, but he doesn't seem to consider it in the moment. It seems a little harsh to remind him of it beforehand. What would I say? "Remember to act like the other kids or no one will want to be your friend."? –  Karl Bielefeldt Dec 23 '13 at 16:16
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No, "Remember to behave the way you would like others to behave towards you." –  Ossum's Mom Dec 23 '13 at 17:12
    
With help, kind of. It's hard to tell with him if it really sunk in or not. –  Karl Bielefeldt Dec 23 '13 at 22:25

4 Answers 4

I would say, Don’t try.

I think it’s great that he has no fear of what other people think of him. Inconvenient right now, but great for later. You want him to behave considerately because it's the right thing to do, not because others will judge him poorly if he doesn't.

(It's partly the difference between raising a follower and raising a leader. A kid who worries about what the other kids think/always tries to do what the other kids are doing may stand in line quietly when waiting to go on stage; but when a group of his friends start to taunt a new kid because he has a weird name, do you want a kid who joins in, or one who says, "Knock it off! How would you like if it you had a name like that and everyone made fun of you?")

I think the problem is he needs to learn to take into consideration how his behavior will make other people feel. Knowing the social rules is a good start -- I am a strong believer in explicitly telling kids these -- but he also needs to know how people will feel if he breaks them. And, since he might not always have you to explain the rules, he needs to learn to consider beforehand what effect(s) a particular behavior will have on others and for himself. (E.g., tell him it would be unkind to others to makes noises on stage -- the other kids and their parents and the teacher will feel sad. And that will make them not want to play with him in the future).

Unfortunately, he’s a little young to be able to do this well. So you’re going to have to compensate. For now try to sign him up for things where he will be less bored (who wouldn’t be, waiting for their turn to sing?), so he doesn’t have to exhibit so much self-control. Where you still want him signed up for things that will be problematical, arrange beforehand what to do when he causes a problem. Have someone ready to whisk him off the stage. Be matter-of-fact; don’t treat it like a punishment (for now, anyway – when he’s older, you’ll need to expect more of him), but you need to be fair to the other kids.

To help with his empathy, if you can find places where disruption causes him to be disappointed, point them out. If he’s watching a DVD and the picture goes fuzzy, point out that his disappointment is just like that of the parents watching their kids on stage when he disprupts things.

Talk about what kind of behavior makes a good friend. (A good friend is kind, a good friend shares, a good friend takes turns, a good friend says "That's too bad!" when something sad happens to you...) Point it out when someone does something kind (or mean!), and ask him how it made him feel; and how he would have felt if the child had said/done x instead. And ask if he thought kids would like to be friends with a kid like that.

When my daughter was three, she had a friend who would say with joy, "Hey, 'Jane' won!" when she won a game they were playing. (Jane is not her real name.) I pointed this out to my daughter, asking how she felt when he said that, and saying how much I admired this boy's generous spirit. (I had to define generous.) My daughter is extremely competitive, so it took her several weeks to process this, but finally she figured that this boy was her friend, and she should feel happy when her friend won a game. And now she does. She's happier when she wins, of course, but she always displays good sportsmanship, and the other kids enjoy playing with her.

And help your son learn to apologize when he makes a mistake. Adult will forgive a lot from a kid when they can tell the kid is learning. Kids are less forgiving, but have shorter memories. If he can replace a bad experience with a good one, he can still redeem himself.

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Does your answer mean your child should learn to be afraid of what other people FEEL about him, not what other people think about him? Why is it good that a child not be afraid of what other people think of him? –  user6365 Jan 6 at 12:12
    
You are not specifically trying to get your child to want the approval of whoever-happens-to-be-around-him-right-now at all. You want to teach a child to be a good friend, and in general to be kind and considerate, the same way you teach a child to be honest and brave. If you teach your child these things, he will be a pleasure to be around, and other children will want to be friends with him. –  Ossum's Mom Jan 7 at 1:58

"Attention seeker" comes to mind. Kid's that do it don't even realize they're doing it... but deep down any attention, good or bad is attention. Sure good attention is better, but it's harder to get too. I understand the dilemma, taking him out of Sunday school could even be perceived as a reward.

With the sort of high confidence he seems to have, it sounds like he's taking the shotgun approach. Just act out and see who appreciates it, in a crowd there's bound to be somebody. The goofing around was probably funny the first time, surely a few kids laughed. Most kids that age have little concept of "don't smoke the joke".

The short answer is give minimal attention to negative behavior. If you punish, make it swift and don't let the topic continue (avoid re-telling the story in front of him, to your spouse, other family members, friends, teachers). You can also note the long term effects; you mentioned that other kids shun him; does he notice this? does it bother him? (hopefully, it can be the spark that he actually wants to control himself).

The most important thing that kids can learn is that there's a time and place for things. Does he have an outlet for acting out? School plays sound like just the place. Gymnastics, music and any sort of performing arts help get that attention seeker the good attention.

Be very very careful though... fun things will be seen as a reward, so it must NOT be in response to the poor behavior. Rather, introduce it independently (whatever you do, don't let him know you're looking for an outlet!).

Super hero movies offer good role models. The favorite hero is usually in situations where they must control them selves; Superman wants to be a normal person so he must hide his strength and energy until it's time to use the suit. His boss is mean to him, his colleges tease him, but he still wants to help them. He waits for the time and place, and in the meantime tries very hard to do a good job, even though it's probably boring.

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If he doesn't behave appropriately in different settings, you could try discussing the upcoming event or venue in advance, and come to an understanding of what kinds of behaviors will be appropriate and what kinds will not. The soccer field is not the same as the sideline of the field, which is not the same as Sunday School which is not the same as the dinner table, etc.

There's lots to learn, and if he's not picking it up on his own, try giving him some help before he's embarrassed you and forced you to respond in a way and a place that's uncomfortable for you and unlikely to stick with him. Just try teaching him what you want him to learn!

There is always the possibility that he may have some kind if attention difficulty, but that's a medical diagnosis, and if that were the case, you'd begin by addressing it the same way anyway.

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There are a certain number of kids who just take longer to develop certain skills than others, but upon my first read I became aware that my "Asperber's alarms" were ringing. I am offering this, less as an answer and more as a, "be aware of just in case" response. I am very familiar with working with kids with the disorder, but not familiar with its diagnosis so I want to say right up front that I am not a doctor and I am not offering medical advice. Sometimes we just see what we are familiar with.

Many kids at six years have the skills to which you refer in your question, but can "forget" themselves when they get super excited, anxious, or whatever. . . they then might act like they can't ascertain proper behavior expectations socially simply because they are excited. Most likely that is the case with your son and time (with loving parental feedback) will help mellow him.

Having said that, Asperger's Syndrome was one of the PDD's I dealt with A lOt at the school for twice-exceptional kids where I taught, and a complete lack of awareness of social mores or even how to observe them was the big symptom. To give you an idea, what Asperger's might look like, I'll have you watch some of the earlier episodes of "Bones." I believe the fictitious character of Temperance Brennan, must be based at least loosely on someone with undiagnosed Asperger's syndrome. It was a favorite show of most of my former students that shared the syndrome as a matter of fact and the school psychologist that taught their "social skills" class often used clips from the show in his class for the highschool kids as a jumping off point for teaching them about social cueing.

I don't recommend jumping to any conclusions, but suggest continuing to work with your son as you are already doing patiently. Encourage him to sit back and watch how others act first when in a new situation. You can even prep for some situations by watching movies that portray the same sort of social situation you expect to be encountering first if you'd like to. Sometimes it is fun to watch kids movies where there is a child that doesn't follow common social practices and you guys can pause and analyze; what is the consequence of that choice - good and bad included while you watch. See how much your son can predict the reactions of others to social situations in which the unwritten "rules" are followed and contrast those with the same situation and what might have happened if the "rules" were broken. You can practice observing actions, gestures, tone of speech, facial expressions - anything that helps cue one member of a group into the responses of another member of the group. . .

While you are doing these exercises, you can better assess how talented at this skill your child really is or is not. If it is a matter of knowing how, but just getting over-excited and forgetting himself some times, I wouldn't worry about it, just chalk it up to, kids being kids (and keep in mind, that a lack in fear of acceptance, can, when in balance, help ensure a certain buffer against peer pressure too).

If you think there is a severe deficiency that is hurting his social standing with friends, likely to hurt his success in relating with others and forging strong bonds and friendships he can trust, and/or you think the deficiency is negatively impacting his over-all confidence, then take it up with a developmental psychologist for further evaluation and support.

Some other symptoms can include perseverative behavior (he get's "stuck" and obsesses over certain things at times. With a child that perseverates, as the parent you often find yourself thinking, "didn't we already settle this?") Asperger's Kids also often are kinesthetically awkward, sometimes come across as a little obsessive about routines, or rituals and might also have fewer specific interests than many other children would have - but when it comes to that interest area or passion, they are often exceedingly knowledgeable and highly talented.

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