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Play it cool with the fool;Friday's child;Parting shots

In our weekly column on what makes children tick, Reva Klein lifts the lid on the class clown.

There's a Nicky in every class. You know him. He's the one who is always hurling himself off his chair and rolling around the floor. Or shouting selected bon mots across the room. Or making daft faces at anyone who will look at him. Yes, he's the one who draws attention to himself at every opportunity. And more often than not, he's rewarded with laughter and some measure of admiration.

Except from you. Class clowns can be a real pain. They cause disruption that can be the kiss of death for classroom management. It's like having a louder-than-life jack-in-the-box going off every few minutes, jangling your nerves and ruining everyone's concentration. But there's no denying that while your admiration and sense of fun may be in short supply, he succeeds in grabbing your attention. And that's what he wants.

But there can be compensations. In a tense moment, the Nickys of this world can come to the rescue, dispersing discomfort or embarrassment or even defusing stand-offs with a choice quip, a backwards somersault or - heaven help us - a silly noise.

What makes Nicky and his fellow class clowns (and yes, they are almost always boys) act in the way they do is not always easy to identify. Some do it out of a sense of insecurity. The extrovert bon vivant at school may be the lonelyignoredput-upon child at home. He may be missing an absent father, or feel edged out by a younger sibling. Or maybe this is his response to puberty and its attendant identity crisis. Or possibly he's bored and frustrated with work that fails to challenge him.

Whatever the reasons, dealing with the young comedian in your midst can be a challenge. Short of battening down the jack-in-the-box's hatch by sitting on him, practical strategies for coping can be elusive.

Nicky's deeply unamused teachers send home chastising letters, hoping parents' threats will sober him up. But it's spritzed water off a clown's back. Ignoring a clown's antics is another much-resorted-to tactic, but it has no affect on the class's response to his tomfoolery. It also can also backfire, by making him try ever harder.

But if you're up to it, witty repartee gives him the attention he needs while allowing you to maintain the upper hand, gently but humorously putting him in his place. But beware - there's a fine line between a good-natured retort and sarcasm. And sarcasm, particularly when dealing with a young, fragile ego, is to be avoided at all costs.

The bottom line is that Nicky wants you to focus on Nicky. If you can spare a few minutes with him on his own, letting him know you are on his side, inviting him to talk about his worries but also getting across the message that he needs to calm down a bit, you could be doing him and yourself a big favour.

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