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Class clowns have short careers

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They’re the stars of the class and playground, but their careers are brief. In Year 1 and 2 class clowns are the most sought after playmates and the centre of attention, but by Year 3 things change.

As the others mature, the class clown plummets to the bottom of the social circle as classmates' disapproval of their behavior grows.

That reversal of fortune can mean that the playful boy, and they’re usually boys, can begin to see himself as a failure which may lead to poor academic performance and developmental outcomes.

Researcher Lynn A. Barnett, an educational psychologist and professor of recreation, sport and tourism at the University of Illinois followed 278 kindergarteners through their first three years of school to explore how playful children viewed themselves and how they were perceived by their classmates and teachers.

Barnett measured each student's playfulness using a 23-item scale that rated their propensity for physical, social and cognitive spontaneity; the enthusiasm they manifested during play; and their sense of humor.

Children and teachers named students in their class who messed around and liked to amuse their classmates, if 25% of the students nominated a child they were considered a class clown.

In Year 1 and 2 peers didn’t see their fun-loving mate as being any different but by Year 3 there was a dramatic turnaround in their perceptions with peers acting out teachers’ disapproval directed at the clown.

"Beginning in first grade, teachers showed their distaste for boys they called class clowns, consistently viewing them as disruptive and as the least socially skilled students in their classes," Barnett said. "These perceptions strengthened as children progressed through their first three years of school. While most children were seen as becoming more socially competent across time, playful boys were actually regarded as declining as they approached third grade."

Finding ways to allow for some horsing about without it being disruptive and not isolating the clown as a deplorable would be a positive for everyone.

"Studies have shown that the labels we assign to children become strong determinants of their self-esteem. And these labels can have a powerful effect on these children's behaviors and socialisation. If these labels are negative ones, they can lead to children becoming alienated from peers. They may treat that child differently, hold inaccurate expectations or pressure them to conform," Barnett said.


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