13 January 2006

Controlling tattling

Tim's kids are now grown, but, while in the thick of hands-on parenting, here's how he dealt with tattling:

We were plagued by siblings' tattling on each other. Someone wise gave us the solution: when one tattled, both got punished (sent to their room or whatever works for you).  This ended the practice of one getting back at the other by tattling, followed by a reprisal snitch, etcetera.  We made it clear we were going to do it from the start, and we also made it clear it did NOT apply to situations that involved their siblings' safety (playing with a knife or something).

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This is a difficult subject that has no real right or wrong answers.

My daughter's school had a problem with bullying which was largely knocked on the head when the school institued a policy of taking tattling (or here in .au, 'dobbing.') seriously. If a child felt they were being victimised, the school would act.

And that school was a very pleasant place to be. Kids knew what was what when it came to dobbing. Trivial matters stayed that way, and the kids seemed to deal with it far better than we adults!

In my home I believe we should take a similar approach and natural justice should prevail. Sometimes kids have to learn to deal with stuff themselves. Other times they have to know that if they've been wronged there will be a proper investigation, and the victim (if there is one) will not be punished for alerting the authorities, ie my wife and me.

If our kids are going to learnt the concept of justice they have to see it modelled. And that means hard work for us parents!

Our rules

* tattling is required if safety is an issue

* tattling is accepted if hitting is involved, or rude behavior to 3rd parties

* tattling is ignored/discouraged for lesser "crimes" (bad words, etc.) (the tattler gets told not to tattle over little things, neither party is actually punished)

Sometimes tattling is just about attention-seeking...

My youngest (10) has to deal with an older sib (13). He is, at times, rough and not supportive or caring about his younger sister. I tell both of them, "If you have any issue at all, and you can't work it out with the other person, tell the nearest adult." Well, at first she would "tattle" on him for the slightest grievance. When this happened I would praise her for following the rules (in coming to me rather than taking the law into her own hands), and then arbitrate, hearing both sides. After they both talked, I would rule in one way or the other. She hated this at first because she wouldn't see justice done (as in, he would accidently bump into her or say something less than supportive, and I wouldn't have him killed, which she would have apprecited)... But she did feel respected, so she kept doing it. Eventually she learned what was a reasonable complaint and what was folly. Now she has a very high success rate of complaints. And she feels good about the concept of justice, and trusts the justice system in our house.

An elementary school teacher idea: For lesser crimes, have the child write down the complaint/tattle and put it in a complaint box! The writing down process is cathartic enough for the child that it eliminates most of the fussing.

Jill, that is a fantastic idea! I am going to try that the next time there is unrest. Thanks!!

We have used a "tattle ear" at our day care. I got a large picture of an ear and posted it on the wall at the children's height. Whey they tattled, I would tell them to "go tell the tattle ear." One girl spent quite a lot of time telling very animated stories to the tattle ear. She would rock her head and stomp her feet and then walk away feeling much better.

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