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Tips for Taming Tattling and Techniques to Teach Telling

“I’m telling on you!” This is a frequent statement proclaimed by many children, aged four through nine. More often than not, a child declares this phrase when they are reporting an insignificant action they observe by a peer, friend, or sibling; rather than an integral surveillance of a potentially dangerous or damaging incident. Ensuring that your child understands the difference between tattling and telling is crucial to their social development, as well as physical and emotional well-being at home and in school.

The Difference Between Tattling and Telling

Tattling2 Before you can tame tattling and teach a child about telling, you need to understand the difference between the two actions.

What is Tattling

Tattling is reporting someone’s wrong doings. Some examples of tattling could be when your child reports that their sibling sneaks an extra snack throughout the day or when a classmate runs in the hallway while on the way to the restroom. Tattling does not have a direct impact on the child’s emotional or physical well-being. However, it could impact their social development.

What is Telling?

TellingTelling is much different than tattling. Initiating a telling statement is vital to maintain a child’s emotional or physical well-being because they are being threatened in some form or are in the direct line of danger. Telling is appropriate when your child states that their neighborhood playmate takes a personal belonging from them and will not return it, or when a child is being bulled or witnessing another student being bullied at school or on the school bus. In many situations, children that tell on other children or even adults are afraid they will be in trouble because they have observed the act or are involved in the act in some form. It is important for your child to know that telling is necessary in order to protect themselves and others.

Why Tattling Needs to Stop

Think back to the days when you were in elementary school and a classmate tattled on you, or when you, yourself did some tattling. While we are all not perfect and make poor choices from time to time, more often than not; these choices are not harmful to others. Being tattled on makes children resent one another. When a student gains the reputation of being a tattler among peers, they tend to become exiled and in result, socially withdrawn from others. Tattling also needs to stop because it may be difficult for teachers and parents to listen to a child who constantly points out others’ wrong doings. When the child actually does have something meaningful to report, they are unfortunately less likely to be taken seriously.

Ways to End Tattling

It’s best to teach children the difference between tattling and telling around age three by presenting them with small bits of information, and gradually building on it. However, it is never too late to attempt to put tattling to an end! Tattling2BThe best and most simple way to end tattling is to have frequent and open discussions with a child. Some ways to do this is give a child a scenario in which you role play together or cite examples and non-examples of tattling. By doing this, children begin to learn the difference between the two and the severity of events that arise and constitute telling. There are also some wonderful pieces of literature to read together before bedtime or to your students in a whole group setting within the first week of the school year that targets a pre-school and early elementary age group, in which tattling occurs the most. Depending on the story being read, you can ask for children to point out examples of tattling and telling in the story and extend your discussion in various ways. Asking a variety of how, why, and when questions can encourage an open and honest discussion with a child. You can even ask them to share a time they know they have tattled, been tattled on (without giving specific names), or have told an adult about a potentially harmful situation they or others have been in.

Books About Tattling

A Bad Case of the Tattle Tongue, by Julia Cook Telling Isn’t Tattling, by Kathryn M. Hammerseng Tattlin’ Madeline, by Carol Cummings Help Me Be Good About Tattling, by Joy Berry Don’t Squeal Unless It’s a Big Deal: A Tale of Tattletales, by Jeanie Franz Ransom

Additional Tips for Parents and Teachers

If your child or student is struggling with tattling after discussions, story sharing, and role playing; there are a few tips to try that will encourage a child to suppress the need to tattle.

One boy tattling

Tattle to Teddy

Place a teddy bear in your family room or near the closet in your classroom. Tell the child if they feel the need to tell a tattle to walk up to the Teddy Bear and whisper their words into its ear. This will help them get the tattle out of their minds as they are working on keeping tattles to themselves.

Sticker Charts

A sticker chart is easy to make or obtain online or from a teacher supply store. It can be utilized in two ways.

  1. Set an obtainable weekly goal for the child as you initially begin the sticker chart. Each day the child does not tell a tattle, they can earn a sticker on their chart. By the end of the week, if they reach their goal, they can earn a reward like extra computer time or a treat after lunch. A realistic goal to set for a struggling, tattling child is 70%. Increase the goal to 80%, then 90%, and 100% over the course of a month. Once the child is earning 100% on their chart for three weeks in a row, you are able to end the incentive-and the tattling!
  1. Present a child with a brief tattling versus telling scenario each day. If the child can identify the scenario as telling or tattling correctly, they earn a sticker for their chart. Set a goal for the child to reach by the end of the month. If they get 23 scenarios correct within the month, they can earn a prize!

It is best to educate yourself first about the difference between tattling and telling before you can educate a child. Addressing the issue of tattling before it arises is key to helping a child stay safe, learn right from wrong, and develop socially and emotionally in school and at home.

Tattling boys


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