Dear Kid Whisperer,
I have a child in my 3rd grade classroom who makes sounds with his mouth off and on all day. It’s driving me crazy and it’s driving the students around him crazy. He did this all last year as well. He has been evaluated and they say there is nothing causing this besides the fact that he likes doing it. OK, he likes making sounds. Great…now how do I make him stop? -Brenda, Lima, Ohio
This non-diagnosis does not surprise me. While it is certainly possible for kids to have conditions that may make it impossible to control verbal calling-out, a vast majority of this common behavior comes from getting kids what they want, usually attention and control over the emotions of the adults and students around them.
Having requested that difficult kids be placed in my classroom for many years, I would tell you that I think I had at least one kid that had this issue every year that I taught. Never one time, not once, did I have a kid who truly could not help making noises. This includes kids just like your student whose parents and teachers had them tested for everything through the IAT process, private testing, etc. I know they could stop because in the first two weeks of school they always did stop without me getting angry, threatening them, or embarrassing them.
Here’s how I would do it.
Kid is doing work.
Kid: BING BOP BOP BOP YOKO ONO BROKE UP THE BEATLES! BOP!
I move next to the kid.
Kid: BOOTY BOOTY I AM THE WALRUS!!!!!!!
Kid Whisperer: (whispering) What should you be doing?
Kid stops making noise for 3 minutes.
Kid: BOP BOP OPRAH SAYS YOU GET A CAR YOU GET A CAR BIPPITY BAM!!!!
Me: Dude. This is rough. I suppose we will have to do something about this later. Don’t let it ruin your day.
Later, during non-instructional time:
Kid Whisperer: Hey. I noticed that you are struggling with not making sounds when we are all working. I’m not mad at you or anything. I just require that students in this room not cause problems with their voices. Everyone needs to be an expert at this so that we can have a good year together. How long do you think you need to practice keeping those sounds and words on the inside of you? Do you need to practice for 10 minutes or 15 minutes?
Kid: 10, I guess.
Kid Whisperer: Okay, so you think you can become an expert at not making sounds in 10 minutes?
Kid: I suppose that’s true.
Kid Whisperer: OK, great. Feel free to sit anywhere you’d like. You can read or draw or stare off into space. You can even get work done if you feel the need. Every minute that you don’t make those sounds will be a successful minute of practice.
There is just about a 100% chance that after Kid practices successfully, he will repeat the blurting behavior again. Why? Because people respond to patterns. They notice and respond to occurrences that keep happening. Patterns are signs that something will happen over and over–that something will be inevitable.
In the past, Kid has noticed a pattern: he could get what he wanted (attention and control) by yelling out gibberish. By following the aforementioned script, you will break that pattern, but you will also need to create a new pattern by doing this multiple times. You will probably have to do this at least three times since three is the lowest number that denotes a pattern.
By the way, there is a really good chance that if Kid can successfully practice not making sounds for ten minutes, Kid can always stop himself from making sounds! Also notice that if Kid does have some type of medical condition, doing this doesn’t hurt his feelings or do any harm. Kid gets to practice doing his best to not cause a problem. I am confident that if you do this, he will stop, having learned the incredibly valuable skill of not causing problems for others.