Children tattle. They do it at daycare. They do it at home. It happens in the primary grades and continues on into high school. Regardless of the grade you teach, tattling will occur in your classroom.
Many teachers don't like tattling and have devised plans to reduce its occurrence and eliminate it from their classrooms. Some techniques we have witnesses or heard about follow.
"I use a tattleman, which is a stuffed teddy bear that I keep in the back of the room," says a veteran kindergarten teacher. "I tell the students if they are tattling because they are upset, to go tell it to the tattleman. Many kids whisper in tattleman's ear throughout the year and it has significantly cut down the amount of tattling in my classroom."
"I keep a plastic tree in the back of my second grade classroom. If the tattling is not about the 3 B's, blood, barf, or being hurt, I tell my students to tell it to the tree."
"I teach my children to only come to me for medical emergencies," a middle school teacher announced. "When they come to tattle I ask them if it's a medical emergency. When they say "no" I simple send them on their way. It takes about a month or two, but tattling ends quickly in my classroom. I just don't tolerate it"
"I made a Tattle Tail," one early childhood educator announced. "When kids tattle, they carry the stuffed tail with them for a portion of the day. It works."
While the ideas expressed above may be well intentioned, the results do not serve to create self-responsible, thinking, caring, children. Let's take a closer look.
Understand tattling is pro-social aggression. It is a natural stage in the development of the conscience. It is a necessary and desirable part of the developmental sequence. Knowing that it is normal and inevitable will help you be less resentful of it and more likely to deal with it effectively.
Rename tattling. Tattling is a negative word with negative connotations. Because we call it tattling and define that as bad, we work to eliminate it in classrooms. Why not just give tattling a new name. We suggest you call it reporting. Reporting doesn't have a negative association attached to it. In fact, we even pay people in our society to do reporting. Don't you wish some child had reported the recent school shootings before they occurred?
When to report. Some teachers help children determine when is and when is not an appropriate time to report a situation, behavior or circumstance. The 3 B's of reporting a Barf, Blood, or Being hurt is one example. Another is the teacher who asks children who report, "Is it going to get them in or out of trouble." If it is going to get them out of trouble, she wants to hear the report. If the reporting is designed to get the other child into trouble she instructs the reporter to keep it to himself.
Our position is that there is no inappropriate time to report. Instruction on when to and when not to report is misguided and unhelpful to the student's development as a self-responsible human being. It is always valuable to report.
The right person The important issue to help children appreciate about reporting is not when to report. Nor is it the consideration of what to report about. The critical decision about reporting involves WHO to report to. We must help children learn to report to the right person.
When a child reports to you that a classmate was passing rubbing alcohol around on the bus and asking students to sniff it, he is reporting to the right person. If a child tells you his friend got sick in the bathroom, he is reporting to the person who most needs to hear the report.
The wrong person. If a student reports to you that another student won't give him a turn on the swing, he has reported the wrong person. Your job here is to help him find the correct person to report to and teach him how to do it effectively. Say, "Sounds like you are wanting a turn. That's something you need to report to Cherrie. Would you like me to help you create some words to use when you tell her?" Then accompany the child to the scene and coach him through the dialog making sure he is heard. Later, after a few attempts with your presence, you can send the child off alone to report his feelings and desires to the person who most needs to hear them.
High school students can be taught to report to the person next to them that they don't like it when answers are copied from their paper. The correct person to report to in this case is the person doing the copying. If several instances of reporting to this correct person are unsuccessful, a new correct person emerges to report to, the teacher.
Young children can be taught to report to the person who steps on their toe, not to the teacher. Middle school students can be taught to report bullying when they notice the victim is unable or unwilling to stand up for herself. At first they can report their feelings to the bully. Later they can report to an adult if necessary.
Self-reporting. On occasion, children need to report to themselves. If the behavior is not bothering anyone and is not potentially harmful, the child may need to say something to himself. "This isn't my issue," is helpful. So is, "This is not a major concern."
Children will tattle. Why not relax into it and accept it as normal and inevitable? Why not see it as an opportunity to help your students learn about the importance of reporting to the right person?