Is tattling an all too common occurrence in your preschool or in your home? I have one, very simple trick that will put a stop to tattling!
Tattling can be a real pain in the neck for educators and parents, especially preschool teachers and parents where the age seems to bring about tattling in full force. It can be just plain irritating as excessive tattling can be a huge interruption to instruction and daily activities. It is easy to feel frustrated by tattlers, and some schools have in place a “no-tattle” policy, but it is important not to ignore those tattles, because children who tattle are trying to say something very important. Luckily, I have one very simple trick that will put an end to tattling…in a positive and constructive way for both the child and the caregivers.
This post was actually inspired by my good blogging friend, Katie, over at Preschool Inspirations, when she recently wrote the post “The Girl Who Tattled“. In this post she shares experiences from her childhood about being a “tattler” and how her teachers handled it…with a negative response, crushing her sweet spirit. Unfortunately, many children who tattle, regardless of the frequency, have similar negative experiences.
However, it doesn’t have to be, and shouldn’t be that way.There is a positive way to handle tattling, which will virtually put a stop to it.
First, we need to review why children tattle.
Why Children Tattle
Children don’t usually tattle to get others into trouble (at least, not in preschool). They don’t tattle to be vindictive or to annoy their teachers and parents. Children tattle because they are trying to communicate. They have something really important to share, and they just need a little help communicating it the right way.
My friend, Katie, shares that children tattle for some pretty basic reasons:
- Children thrive with consistency. Children understand rules and routines, so when they see someone not following proper rules and routines they feel a need to report it. They want to communicate that something is happening that is not consistent with what they have been taught.
- Children want to do the right thing. Since rules and consistency have been established, any line stepping or inconsistencies feel like the “wrong” thing. So, a child’s response is to communicate that misdeed to an adult who surely can fix it and return order.
- Children love to be helpers. Clearly if something is unfair, somebody has to make it fair, right? Children often report situations to adults as a means of trying to help restore the order that they feel is missing, because, remember, children thrive with consistency.
- Children have to be taught to problem solve. What to do when another child isn’t following the rules, or is playing unfairly, have to be taught to children. Children need caring and nurturing adults to help them work out problems in a positive way. When a child comes to an adult to tattle, they are really asking that adult to help them figure out a solution in their dilemma.
The Difference Between Tattling and Reporting
Before we go any further, we need to understand a clear distinction between tattling and reporting or telling. The differences are as clear as day.
Reporting or telling is:
- when kids report an incident to try to keep each other safe (Johnny is angry and is pulling on Jeff’s shirt).
- when immediate action is required (Callie’s foot is stuck in the chair).
- when an adult is needed to help solve the problem (Where the problem is beyond the scope of development for the child to handle the situation on their own, such as in the examples above).
- no one is hurt or in danger (Johnny didn’t put away his toys at the literacy center).
- when immediate action is not required (Johnny can pick up his toys before snack time).
- when, at some point in development, the child will be able to solve the problem himself. (Johhny might just need a reminder).
It is important to teach children the differences between tattling and reporting. Of course, children should always report an unsafe or dangerous incident, and they should be taught how to identify them.
The One Simple Trick to Stop Tattling
Are you ready for it? In the list of reasons why children tattle, did you notice a reoccurring theme?
Communication. “What would you like to tell..?”
You can put a stop to tattling by helping your students communicate what they really want to say.
So, when a preschooler comes to me with a tattle, “Jack took that puppet from me,” I ask that preschooler, “What would you like to tell Jack?” The preschooler might say something like, “Not to take toys from me. I want the puppet back.” And I respond, “Then let’s tell that to Jack.” I sit next to my “tattler” as he repeats to Jack what he told me. 99% of the time, Jack hands the puppet back.
This technique works equally as well for other kinds of problems. If a preschooler comes to me to report that Jenny didn’t wash her hands before she sat down to have a snack, I ask the reporting preschooler, “What would you like to say to Jenny?” That preschooler typically responds with something like, “That she needs to wash her hands before snacks.” And then I say, “Let’s go remind Jenny to do just that.” And, 99% of the time, Jenny will go wash her hands before having her snack.
Now, sometimes a situation might go as follows:
A preschooler comes to me and says, “Johnny knocked down my tower!” To which I respond…(go on, fill it in)… “What would you like to say to Johnny?” And the reporting preschooler might say, “I hate him and he is mean and he shouldn’t be allowed to knock down towers!” My response would change a bit to make our talk with Johnny more positive. It might sound like this: “You’re right. It’s not nice to knock down other people’s towers. I understand why you are upset. Maybe you can tell that to Johnny.” So then we work out how to talk to Johnny in a positive and constructive way. I always have the “tattler” tell me first exactly what they will say, before we talk to the other child, because I want to teach my preschoolers positive and constructive communication.
Why This Trick Stops Tattling
What makes this simple trick so successful are two things:
- Children are learning how to vocalize what they really want to say in a positive and constructive way.
- Children are still getting the adult support they need to confidently solve problems.
Books About Tattling
This one simple trick to stop tattling may not be the fastest trick in the book, but I assure you, it is the kindest, most nurturing, and most powerful way you can help a child who is a tattler. The kindest, most nurturing, most powerful way you can teach children to solve social problems on their own. After all, tattlers are not trying to be annoying or irritating. They are simply trying to tell you, the responsive and caring adult, that they see a problem and need help fixing it, because they value routine, consistency, and rules.
I’m Sarah, an educator turned stay-at-home-mama of five! I’m the owner and creator of Stay At Home Educator, a website about intentional teaching and purposeful learning in the early childhood years. I’ve taught a range of levels, from preschool to college and a little bit of everything in between. Right now my focus is teaching my children and running a preschool from my home. Credentials include: Bachelors in Art, Masters in Curriculum and Instruction.
Christina @There's Just One Mommy says
Such a simple tip. Love it!
So many times my kids don’t mean to tattle, they just don’t know how to tell each other what they want to say.
Sarah Punkoney says
Exactly! nd this tip does just that…it teaches kids how to say what they are thinking and feeling in a positive way so they won’t need to tattle.
Natalie Crockett says
I used this all last year in my 3 yr old and 4 yr old classes. Part way through the year most of the older class would do this on their own. They only came and “tattled” if it was something bigger, usually things I wanted to know about like hitting.
Sarah Punkoney says
How wonderful! Thanks for sharing this with me. It warms my heart to know you have had success with it, too!
Powerful stuff, thank you .
What would you say to the child being tattled on who states “Yes I did wash my hands” and then it is a back and forth of no you didnt-yes i did..? You were not there in the bathroom.
You want to believe both children whom are best friends. One believes he didnt wash hands the other says matter of factly I did.
Sarah Punkoney says
It’s always tough when you don’t actually see what may or may not have happened. If it is as simple as handwashing, I will actually smell the child’s hands. If they washed, their hands will smell like soap. But, I never tell a child she lied. Instead, I would say something like, “Your hands will smell like soap if you washed, but your hands don’t smell like soap. Can I help you wash again? We want to have really clean hands for snack time!”
In other situations where the incident may not be so obvious, I always try to give each child the benefit of the doubt. “He took my train.” “No, I didn’t. I had it first.” Those instances are when I might say something like, “We are lucky to have lots and lots of trains. I can tell you are both upset and you both want the same train. What can we do to make this fair?”
From here, we get into taking turns and sharing, which is something different…and for an upcoming post!
Belinda Britt says
I teach music k-6 and most of the tattling happens with k-1. I see them for 45 minutes so I don’t have time to problem solve in figuring out who did what. I read this article on Facebook this past week and decided to give it a try. I don’t expect it to work in all situations, but I thought if it helped even a little, it would be great. We were moving from one area to the other and a student came to me and told me Charlie ran. I asked what would you like to tall Charlie? She promptly went over to Charlie who was sitting on the floor, knelt down in from of him and said, “Charlie I need to tell you its not okay to run to your place.” He said “Okay.” and she was satisfied.. I didn’t have to get involved, she felt impowered and the problem was solved in her eyes. Now most likely Charlie will run again, but we will see. .Thank you. It had not really occurred to me why the littles feel the need to tattle.
Sarah Punkoney says
Oh, thank you for coming back to comment with your success! I really believe in this, and you’re right, it helps the children feel empowered!
Hi Sarah, My name is Joy and I have just recently signed up to receive your e-mails. I realize this post was probably posted some time ago, but I was amazed after I read it! I have been a preschool teacher for 24 year and I have always had some issues with tattling in the class room, but this school year seems to be the worse by far! I have never really thought about why this age group tattles except to get someone else in trouble, or to get attention. I can’t believe that I have never thought about tattling in this way! I am heart broken to think that I may have caused problems for some of these precious little ones. I want to always encourage and teach them to feel good about themselves and to love who they are! I know this school year is almost done but I intend to implement this into my daily routine! I am excited, and certain that this will make a positive impact on the children and climate in my class! It just goes to show that we are never experienced enough, or too old enough to learn! Thank you!
Allie O. says
Missing in this article is dealing with tattling as a way of getting ones way all the time. What about if Johnny doesn’t want to simply comply with the tattler’s wishes? Plus, sitting with the tattler and teaching them to more clearly communicate why Johnny should left the tattler choose the book that is read, the activity we do, where she sits at the table, etc. reinforces to the tattler that she should always get her way. In life there will be times where Johnny shouldn’t have to give her the puppet back or move seats at the lunch table just for princess tattler. It seems that there should be some negative consequences for especially pushy tattlers, no? Clear communication doesn’t excuse them stepping on everyone else’s toes.
Jennifer Hill says
I agree. And what about the kid who is a CONSTANT tattler and a busybody who is always reporting everyone’s business?? I have 26 kindergartners and this strategy just isn’t feasible in my huge class that is full of constant tattlers. In theory it’s a nice idea and I can see it working with a small group of occasional tattlers, but in reality I just don’t know how I would ever make this work!