Stop disrespecting a child's cry for help by making them talk to a wall, a phone where no one is there, a stuffed animal... or a crazy made up tattle monster.
When your spouse or your best friend comes to you to talk with you about a problem, do you send them to the wall or ask them to talk to a phone where no one is there? Of course not! When we value a relationship we seek connection, we listen, we respond, we help. So, why in the world are we hanging children who come to us for help out to dry?
Why do some adults think that it is okay to do to children?
Young children tattle. Children who feel powerless or lack the social/emotional skills to navigate a situation tattle. Children who are used to the adults in their lives solving all of their problems tattle.
What message are we sending young people when we ask them to tell their problems to the wall? To me it certain looks like "I don't care what you have to say" and it sends the message that we are not here to help and support that child. What happens when we do that for all of the little things and then a child has a really big thing they need to discuss with and need help with? Are they going to come to you? Probably not.
And... on the other hand, what message are we sending when a child comes to you and you are the one who solves the problem, you tell the children what to do? Of course you are going to have a TON of tattling, because children don't trust themselves to solve their problems. They rely on you to do it for them!
If you really want to limit the amount of tattling, give the children support and the skills to feel empowered and to work out those social situations. Tattling, like any other form of behavior is a child's way of communicating a need. Sometimes children communicate in ways that really get on our nerves... tattling, whining, acting out.... you name it... but really... they are just trying to communicate, connect and have their needs met..... So let's help them.
"Ms. Amy, Suzy took the cars out!"
"It sounds like you need to talk to Suzy, do you need my help?"
When a child approaches you with the problem, remind them who they need to talk to. Sometimes I will ask them, "who do you need to talk to?" or I will as stated above, use the child's name. Sometimes the child will say yes that they need my help, sometimes they will just march over to talk to the other child. In either case, I tend to move closer to the children so that I can be there to support if needed. Sometimes children will say yes that they need my help, and in those cases I will often give them some options as to how I may help them? Like: Do you need me to stand by you while you talk to Suzy? Do you need help figuring out what you want to say to Suzy? or What can I do to help?
I try to teach young children to be assertive. I help them with "I statements" and I validate their feelings.
"Suzy, I don't want you to take the cars out!"
"But I want to play with the cars"
In this case.... the child just did not want someone to play with the cars, and Suzy wanted to play. The cars were on the shelf all morning until Suzy took them out. I stood by while she talked to Suzy. Sometimes I need to help the children hear each other. Saying things like "I heard Suzy say..... " or did you hear what she said?
Sometimes the child who is tattling will not get the result that they want, and in those instances I try to validate their feelings.
"You really wanted the cars to stay put away."
In many cases, when doing this, the child opens up with their reasoning or more of their thought process and then you can help them decide what they are going to do next.
"I didn't want all these cars out because now there is no room for my blocks!!!!" and there it is.. the root of the issue for this child.... They needed space to play with the blocks. Would I have found that out if I sent her to talk to the wall or the tattle monster? Would she have gained practice in talking with other children and working to find a solution?
"Let's see if we can find another place to play with the blocks. Where do you think might work?"
Children who are given the time, the skills (through modelling), and the opportunities to practice social skills do not tattle, because they are empowered to work it out.
Now please, throw away those tattle monsters.... stop sending children to talk to walls.... or on phones where no one listens.
Be present and answer their cries for help, so that they will gain the skills needed to work through their problems and the amount of tattling you have in your classroom/program will decrease.