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Can I be honest about something?
I used to struggle with tattling in my own classroom for my first few years of teaching. It used to drive me crazy when my chronic tattlers would come running to me every single time something happened that they didn't like, and I found myself spending countless hours trying to sort out who spit on who first and why (I'm not kidding - listen to this week's show to hear the story)!
Over the years, I've gathered 5 tried and true methods that will put an end to tattling in your classroom (or at least significantly diminish it) - while empowering young learners with the strategies they need to solve conflicts throughout their lives.
One of the best ways I've found to stop the "blame game" when kids have a problem with each other is to invite them to write about it to tell me what happened, and then offer an apology for their part in the conflict.
I love having kids write to explain their conflict and to apologize because it takes them some time to think about what it is they want to say, it helps me to understand more about what is going on here and whether it warrants further investigation or attention, and it’s a great first step towards helping kids to slow down and calm down before we work towards a resolution.
Also, in my classroom, we wrote a LOT because it's a wonderful way for us to learn to articulate our feelings and communicate more effectively, so it was completely normal and expected that my students write to each other to help them to identify and own their part in the conflict.
And, when each student wrote their apology, I didn’t have the same expectations for each child. The point is, that by the time they had written their apologies and said I’m sorry for their part in the conflict, most of the time, they didn’t even care about it anymore. All they cared about was getting on with the art project that they had now missed the instruction for and had to find out from their friends how to do (another natural consequence).
Most of the time, conflicts between children are small, and they move past them even before you intervene. In this case, they needed time to settle down, and I needed to teach an art lesson, and they knew that writing an apology to own their part in the conflict was the norm in our classroom because they saw me ask kids to do this often.
Because it takes time away from other things they want or need to do in class, students don’t often even come to me to help them to solve their challenge (more on this later). They also know that when they are writing about the conflict and their apology, they are responsible for catching up on any other work they need to do that they’ve missed as a result, or it’s homework. Natural consequences work really well, and so does having a system in place for tattling and conflicts in your classroom.
Now, I don’t rely on written apologies as the only way of dealing with tattling. I have 4 other tricks up my sleeve that I use depending on the situation, so you might want to incorporate some of them into your classroom.
Over time, as you get to know your students better, you start to gain a better understanding of their personalities and their patterns.
If a student who seems to complain about everything and finds a problem with any situation they’re in comes to me and wants to tattle on somebody, I am less likely to spend much time on it than if a child who rarely complains comes to me with a problem. If my intuition – and I strongly encourage you to pay attention to your intuition – if my intuition is telling me that this child might just need a little extra attention right now, I love to redirect them towards my adorable, oversized, stuffed bear named Oaf.
If you’ve been listening to my podcast for awhile now, you know that this adorable, oversized bear, Oaf, has weighted paws, he lives in our reading corner amongst all of the books and on my teacher chair most of the time, and he loves, loves, loves to hear children’s’ stories and secrets. So, if a child comes to me and I think he or she might just need a little extra attention, I’ll ask him or her to go and tell Oaf all about it.
And, it is absolutely adorable to watch a six-year-old child go over to a giant teddy bear and complain, arms waving, all about Mica who took the extra ball at recess when it wasn't even his turn. Like I said: Adorable.
Now of course, I wouldn’t use this in 3rd grade or above because the kids might think you’re nuts, but I do have to say that even when I taught 4th grade, I kept Oaf in my classroom, and I told my students that he was there anytime any of them wanted a little extra comfort. My 4th graders would go over to him after recess or first thing in the morning and just snuggle in and give him a hug sometimes. They’re just bigger kids, and we all need a little extra comfort every now and then, right?
Now, if you don’t have the money right now to invest in a giant stuffed bear (I got mine at Costco for about $20 so watch for specials at Costco or Sam’s Club) – one of the most talented teachers at our school had an oversized picture of an ear. Yes, an ear – laminated and taped to the back of her classroom door. This was in 3rd grade, and she used this ear for exactly the same purpose: when kids just needed to tell someone about who did what at recess or whatever it was that she just didn’t have time to listen to at the moment. I thought it was really weird and so I asked her about it and she said that some of her students used it ALL THE TIME. So funny, right?
The point is to know your students. It’s a careful balance. If you see a student going over to your stuffed bear or your giant ear a lot, there may be something you need to talk to that student about and investigate to find out what’s going on. So, just be sure to continue to pay attention so that if a student does have a legitimate problem or concern, you know when you need to spend a little bit of time to understand what’s going on.
Students tattle for a lot of different reasons. Sometimes it’s just to get attention, or its what works with their parents, their babysitter, or with last year’s teacher. Sometimes it’s just to see what you’re going to do about it because kids are constantly testing boundaries. It’s just what they do.
But other times, kids are tattling because they simply have never been taught the basic skills to know how to solve problems on their own, especially at school. This is huge, and very common.
We are sometimes so focused on getting all of the content taught that we need to teach that we forget about teaching children, like we teach all of our classroom routines and expectations, what our routine or procedure is for tattling in our classroom at the beginning of the year.
So, I eventually learned that during the first couple of weeks of the school year, to take a bit of time to teach my students about what “I messages” are.
Here's how: Tell your students that when someone does something you don't like or something that they did hurts your feelings, your job is to tell that person that you need to give them an I message.
They have to stop and listen to the I message. So, the offended persons says I something like, “I don't like it when you call me...” or whatever the offense is. They also have to say how it makes them feel.
So they would say, for example,
“I don’t like it when you call me dumb. It makes me feel sad.”
The offender has to repeat what they heard, so they will say,
“I heard you say that you don’t like it when I call you dumb and it makes you feel sad.”
Then, they need to say, “I am sorry. I won't do it again.”
You will need to practice this with your students a lot during the first couple weeks of school, and it’s helpful to make a poster and keep it on display so kids know what to do and what to say when there’s a problem with another student.
So, when a student does come to me and wants to tattle, the first thing I ask is, “Did you give them an I message?”
If they say no, I tell them to go back to that student and give them an I message first. Now of course, once in awhile, someone who is supposed to stop and receive an I message doesn’t, so then I need to get involved and walk them through this together.
It takes some time for kids to start following this new routine, and whether or not it works will depend on how consistent you are in requiring kids to do this. I didn’t even know about “I messages” when that incident happened with Tim and Tessa, but once I learned about it and incorporated it into my classroom consistently (and that took a couple of months at least), it worked really well and was a fantastic tool that we could use every day.
Also, it’s important to explain early on that their intent is important to pay attention to. If a student’s intent is to help someone that is hurt or bring bullied, then it's fine to report it. But, if their intent is to get someone else in trouble, then then need to keep it to themselves.
From then on, wherever they come to you, you can ask, "What's your intent?" And then give them the teacher stare. That usually stops them in their tracks pretty quickly!
When you are teaching your students how to handle tattling in your classroom, here are four great books (with affiliate links) to help you teach your students about tattling (and how to stop it) in your classroom that you might want to check out.
Just click on any of the book images below to get your copy now:
1. Armadillo Tattletale
2. A Bad Case of Tattle Tongue
3. Don’t Squeal Unless It’s a Big Deal
4. Little Miss Tattletale
Finally, this is a great tool for your chronic tattletales. You know, the ones who just can’t seem to get a handle on not telling on everybody in your classroom for everything. We all have one, right?
So, here’s how to use an Incident Report Form for tattling, (just click here to get a copy of this form now). Basically, your tattle tale incident report form needs to be very long and very complicated.
When a student comes up to tattle, you tell them you are very concerned about this issue and you need to get every detail. So, they need to fill out the form with every bit of information so that you can look into it.
If they fill out the form and give it to you, tell them that we can meet at recess time and go over this if this still is a concern for you. If they do all of that then you should spend the time with them to find out what’s going on, because rarely will a child choose to stay in for recess to talk about something unless it’s a real concern to them.
Most likely they will not want to fill the form out in the first place, and even more so not want to spend their recess time going over it with you. The other benefit of the Incident Report Form, much like the written apology I had Tim and Tessa do, you also have then documentation should a parent say something happened and then accuse you of not doing anything about it.
When you use the Incident Report Forms, you technically have a report that the student turned in to you. That way, you would also be able to document how often this happens and know if it is a reoccurring problem that you need to give more attention to.
And there you have it - five of my favorite ways to stop tattling for good inside your classroom. I hope this has been helpful for you - please go ahead and comment below to let me know what you're going to try in your classroom!
P.S. If managing transitions in your classroom is driving you crazy, grab your FREE Transitions Cheat Sheet, loaded with my best ideas (and hot links) to streamline transitions in your classroom once and for all!
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Dr. Lori Friesen | Beginning Teacher Mentor
Creator of the R.E.A.D.Y. for School Academy, Dr. Lori Friesen has mentored thousands of beginning teachers across the country through her workshops and courses. Host of the popular podcast, Beginning Teacher Talk, and creator of the innovative literacy program for 1st and 2nd grade, Dogs Help Kids Read and Succeed, Dr. Lori is dedicated to serving educators and inspiring learners. Learn more at drlorifriesen.com.
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