Dear Dr. Sylvia

Strange Humor Typical At Ten

July, 2017


Our 10-year-old son has been identified as a high-potential learner and participates in advanced math and an “enrichment class” in his public school.

Until this year, he was very quiet at school, was occasionally teased, and even had panic attacks. We suggested using his humor to diffuse situations. Now that he has found the gag button, our son won’t turn it off. His mission is to make everyone he meets laugh.
When put on the spot, our son will often blurt out inappropriate comments. For example, after he’d been knocked to the ground and kicked in the head and stomach at school, we took him to the pediatrician to make sure he was physically okay. His pediatrician asked why he was in the office; he said in a goofy, loud voice, “I’m psycho.”

Although he’s very physical and goofy, his regular classroom teacher doesn’t think he has a problem; but his enrichment teacher does. My concern is that he’s hiding behind the humor. I want him to be comfortable in his own skin.
We have an evaluation for ADHD set up with a therapist. I also tried to involve the school counselor, teachers, and principal to help set up some structures for him; but none of them seem to know where to start. Any input would be much appreciated.



First, you should understand that kids at age 10 are often just learning about humor and can be inappropriate. It’s a new skill, and sometimes they make jokes that aren’t funny at all; while at other times, they seem so silly that you can’t help but wonder what they’re thinking. Occasionally, they get it right and actually say something that’s truly funny, even to adults.

Joking is a new skill for your son, a very different one from learning to read or do math. He’ll be trying to gauge people’s responses; and of course, when his jokes are grossly inappropriate, he’ll need your guidance and limits. You’ll also want to help him to be sensitive so that he doesn’t hurt the feelings of others by joking about them. This is a strange and interesting stage and, yes, it can become embarrassing at times.

I think it’s a good idea to have your son evaluated by a psychologist. He may need some help with social skills. As to ADHD, while an evaluation is appropriate if you’re concerned, keep in mind that ADHD doesn’t usually suddenly appear at age 10. The characteristics should have shown themselves by age 5 to be considered ADHD. Either way, a psychologist can assist you in guiding your son and should be able to work with the school to coordinate a program. Summer is often a good time to get evaluations started so that your son can begin the school year positively. 

Dr Sylvia RimmDr. Sylvia Rimm is a child psychologist and clinical professor at Case University School of Medicine, author, newspaper and magazine columnist, and radio/TV personality. For free newsletters entitled So Your Child is Gifted, send a self-addressed, stamped envelope for each newsletter and a note with your topic request to P.O. Box 32, Watertown, WI, 53094. Read Dr. Rimm’s articles on this topic and submit family questions online at All questions are answered.

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