Wednesday, March 7, 2012

"Reporting" not "Tattling"

Our 4-year-old's teacher "reported" to us today that all of a sudden this week our son has started talking a lot more at Montessori. (He had been relatively quiet since starting there in September. Guess he's finally comfortable enough now to finally be his true, vocal self!). He's suddenly asking lots of questions at school and is very curious. Which is wonderful, according to the teacher, who labeled him a "rule-follower" in a good way, but...

Teacher has a problem now that DS has started "tattling" on other students whenever they break the rules. As in "So-and-so is out in the hallway and she's not supposed to be!" etc etc. The teacher has asked DH and me to talk with DS about "tattling" and to coach him on how to problem solve independently. Very important life skill, that.

Whenever I'm faced with a parenting issue I can't immediately sort though, one of the first things I do is to check out the archives at Ask Moxie.

Naturally, that's where I found the perfect resource for tackling our problem - a brilliant post on tattling !!

From which I gleaned these gems -

From @Julie:

"tattling": What you do when you want to get someone else in trouble.
"reporting": What you do to keep someone you care about (or yourself) safe.
Kids absolutely know the difference, from a very early age (I'm talking 3-4 years old)

Tattling is exhausting. My usual response to that is, "What could you have done/said to help xyz make a better choice?" which frustrates the tattler because their goal of getting xyz in trouble has been thwarted and they must think about how they could have helped instead - SO LAME!


In my observations of the students I have worked with for over 15 years, the students who tattle do so for a very specific reason - the most common ones are:
-to seize some power over someone they feel has power over them
-to retaliate against a perceived injustice
-to gain some favor with an adult, usually to compensate for emotional needs they themselves might be harboring.

For example, if Jenny tattles on Gloria about talking on the rug, Jenny is most likely feeling that Gloria has been mean to her in the past and wishes to "get back at" her (power), or that Gloria ALWAYS seems to get away with stuff, while Jenny NEVER seems to get away with anything and always gets caught (injustice), or that Jenny wants to gain favor with the teacher, to feel *she* is the teacher's helper/friend/confidante etc. (compensation in relationships)

It's usually never *just* about getting someone in trouble, though there is a very powerful rush that some kids get in doing so if they meet the above criteria. Children are inherently kind, and only through continuous bullying, perceived injustices caused by other kids or adults, or emotional voids in their own life, do they feel the need to get another child into trouble... Tattling *just* for the sake of getting someone into trouble is a pretty shallow definition, and I think the people who struggle with the no tattling rule understand that the purpose for tattling can be much deeper and should be addressed rather than just saying "don't tattle, that's our rule."

And another pithy gem from @Sharon Silver:

Sometimes, especially at age 3 or 3.5 children "tattle" because they want you to know that they know the rules. They come to you and tattle as if to say, "See I've been listening. I saw it done wrong, and I'm coming to tattle so you know that I understand the right way." Asking a child if that's what they're doing, announcing the right way, by calling attention to the wrong way, is a good way to begin the conversation. You can even compliment them on knowing the rules.
Yep. I think we now have the basic framework for working with DS on this issue. Anyone been there, done that and got anything else to add here? ("Tattling" - grrr I hate that word. "Reporting" is probably a better word, but then it might take a minute for the listener to connect "reporting" in this sense with "oh, they mean kids tattling.")


Anandi said...

Yep, I refer everyone (and myself) to the Moxie archives when I need to figure something out. LOVE it.

nicoleandmaggie said...

I thought anti-tattling was out. Our preschool encouraged reporting and demonstrated conflict-resolution. I felt the change refreshing from my youth, because getting in trouble for "tattling" as a child led me to not report many things as I grew up that in retrospect I should have reported.

mom2boy said...

I think Julie's explanation of the difference is a good one, too. Tattling is exhausting for the teacher. I'm not sure how much "conflict resolution" actually goes on, though. Reporting should be actively encouraged. Although name calling is probably in that grey area. It can definitely escalate to a problem needing adult help.

A wants the red play dough. B has it and won't share. A can complain to the teacher, B won't share. (Not rule breaking per se but not modeling the spirit of generosity we all seem to think kids need to have at all times) A can and probably has asked B to share. B can and probably has said no.
So A picks a different color, continues to wait to use the red, or takes some red play dough from B unless the teacher steps in to make B share. That must happen a million times a day in various scenarios in pre-school classrooms all over. Maybe that's where the "all the kids do all the same activities at all the same times" teaching method came from.

From what I can tell, the so and so did such and such happens a lot in the 3-6 age group. Tate tattles on everybody at the end of the day when he reports back how his day went. I've seen kids tattling in just the times I've been hanging around in the morning or afternoon at drop off/pick up.

I'm glad DS is talking and getting comfortable there. That's great!

zenmoo said...

I really like that explanation of the difference between reporting and what we call in Australia "dobbing".

The classic 5 or 6 year olds insult is "Dobbers wear nappies". Do American kids say "Tattlers wear diapers"?

Anandi said...

@mom2boy - I love the way you phrased this "the spirit of generosity we all seem to think kids need to have at all times". My husband and I were genuinely at a loss for thinking about times in our adult lives where we have to give up one of our possessions to someone else just because they "want a turn".

Can you imagine a stranger just grabbing your iPad? :)

Our motto here (which seems to be mostly ok from what I've observed) is that you have to be willing to share stuff you're not actively using (if we have people over, for example), but you don't have to hand over what you're playing with until you're done with it. Which could be never. I'm ok with that.

It's a little different when it's shared equipment (playground, etc) but with personal stuff I see no reason to have to hand it over or take turns unless the kid wants to...

Got It, Ma! said...

My son (who is a big time rule follower) struggled in first grade with a classmate who regularly broke the rules. I never knew all the details, but this was kid who, while able to function in a normal classroom, had some challenges that got him a bit of leniency when it came to some behavioral stuff.

At one point my son, who felt ill-used by the child and frustrated at what he perceived was unfair treatment, made a bigger deal of a playground accident than was strictly necessary in order to get this child in trouble.

Of course, my son's conscience (constantly on over-drive!) got the better of him and he admitted that he'd perhaps overstated the seriousness of the infraction, at which point both boys got to chat with the principal (lovely, lovely kind and gentle man. Not at all a scary principal.)

The principal, in talking with me after the fact, explained that, for children who are, by nature, rule followers, kids who seem to regularly flout the rules can be very upsetting. A rule-follower tends to feel anxiety when someone else breaks the rules, and over time will feel, as my son did, that there is something unfair going on. And fairness is important to rule-followers. This anxiety and frustration can play out in a lot of ways, and one of them is tattling.

The principal invited both boys to his office a couple of times just to talk. He helped them talk to each other about the things they had in common (little sisters, books they liked). Once they knew each other better, my son had a more charitable view of this child and didn't feel frustrated by him anymore.

So the moral of my long story is, I think it helps to know the "who" and the "why" of the tattling situation because it can be complex, and often, interpersonal. If it seems to be a particular kid or kids who are the object of the tattling, they may need a little help breaking down some barriers in order to feel more able to cut each other some slack.

paola said...

Noah is very much a rule follower and as @Got it Ma pointed out so well, felt confused in situations where he saw people flouting the rules. When he was a little younger ( he is now 7), he either told them to their face they were breaking rules, or come running to me and tell me in a loud voice what so and so was doing. Once he even managed to tell an adult off for breaking a rule, and then because they wouldn't listen, dobbed them in to me in his biggest and loudest voice. I could have DIED!

Fortunately, he has learnt some grey tones. He still dobs, but quietly to me just to show me that he knows the rules are being broken. Unless it is dobbing on his sister. I hear that at least 50 times a day.

Cloud said...

@Anandi- your motto is very similar to what our day care uses- the kid playing with a toy doesn't have to just give it up because someone else wants a turn. But once you give it up- it is gone.

At home, we say that toys in your room, you don't have to share. Toys in the common areas that you're playing with, you don't have to share. Toys in the common areas that you aren't using are up for grabs.

Mostly, we're lucky that Pumpkin doesn't usually mind letting Petunia play with her toys, and Petunia minds only in the usual 2 year old "I'll scream until I'm distracted" sort of way.

On the original topic- Pumpkin is very much a rule-follower and reports other kids not following the rules. We've used Julie's distinction a lot here, too. I remember it from when that post first appeared! She has also gotten more savvy about when to "report" at day care and when to just tell me about it in the car on the way home. Which is reassuring to see happen.

hush said...

@Anandi - Amen! And I love your motto re: taking turns/things not actively being used are fair game.

@nicole&maggie - Yes, an important point about getting it right as a parent vis-a-vis "tattling."

@mom2boy - Yes, it goes on a lot in age 3-6 group and it has to be so exhausting for teachers! (It annoys the ever living shit out of me in my house!)

@Zenmoo - Americans say "Nobody likes a tattletale" and in some communities a "snitch" is one of the worst things to be.

@Got It, Ma! - Our sons sound very much alike in personality! What an awesome principal - so neat to hear when someone just really gets it like that.

@Paola - So funny!! Sometimes kids really know how to embarrass their parents without even actively trying. ;)

@Cloud - Amen, it was a really classic AM post! So cool that Pumpkin is getting savvy about reporting. Means there's hope for mine! ;)

Anonymous said...

My sister watches my 3.5 year old and there have been times when her husband will watch her when my sister is at work. Yesturday while sitting visiting with my brother-in-law my daughter came up to me and said "Mommy, I was playing with the kitten and uncle brian told me to sit down". My response was.."ok". However, my daughter did not finish her statement because she was looking at her uncle and then stopped mid sentence. B-in-law than asked me "So, do you encourage her to tattle?"...I said "no" and his response was "We don't allow tatling here in our home".
I left without saying a word. Called my sister when she got off work and just informed her I was upset. She got defensive and informed me that my daughter should not be tattling on an adult.
I have come to the conclusion that I will now be finding another daycare for my daughter.
Has anyone ever experienced this before with family members?

hush said...

@Anonymous - Find a new daycare. Make sure you spend some extra time with your daughter letting her know she can tell you anything and you will listen. I have a rule for my kids, based on research I've done particularly the excellent book "Protecting the Gift" by Gavin de Becker, that I don't allow my children to be babysat alone by male relatives. There's something about the way you've described the interaction between Brian and your daughter that just seems off. I wouldn't allow him to ever be alone with her anymore. Good luck.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your advise! I will be purchasing the book soon and look forward to reading it. I have made the decision that no male relatives will be watching my daugher alone from here on out. Thank you again.