17 July 2007

"No tattling zone" helps parents relax during park playdates

From Sara:

Kara and her local playground moms sit at a picnic table while the kids play.  Around this table they've drawn a circle in the dirt.  Why?  Well, the circle is the "no tattling zone".  Brilliant, isn't it?

It is, for those kids that understand the concept of tattling. Frankly, I find that concept hard to teach. There's a fine line between snitching and coming to an adult for legitimate help. It's a subtle distinction -- too subtle for my kids (and sometimes even me) at this point.

Any thoughts?

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We teach 'reporting' rules - from an article I read at StorkNet.com, I think. Basically, there is a hierarchy of things you report, and who you report to. Some things just report to yourself (I don't like when he does that, but I'm not being hurt by it and I can avoid him or ignore it). Some you report to the other party (I don't like when you are mean to me. Stop. - first instance.). Some you report 'up' - to a teacher or parent, like safety violations, or repeat infractions of respect or other rules.

The difference is that no part of reporting is 'trying to get them in trouble' or 'setting them up so I get to see them taken down a peg'. Yes, sometimes reporting means someone gets in trouble. But because there's a hierarchy of who to report TO, you can (as the parent) redirect their energy. My oldest will come to me with a problem he could have solved, and tell on the other party, and expect me to fix it or get the other in trouble. I ask him in return 'who do you report this to? Did you report to him? No? Try that.' If he really seems to be relishing the chance to get someone in trouble, I ask him what the purpose of telling me is... what do you want me to do about this situation. Let's discuss. If he's really at a loss for how to handle something, I can coach him through it. If he's tried and can demonstrate that he's tried, then I call that acceptable reporting, and proceed to help them handle it together in a new way.

It works for us. We don't get much 'tattling' type reports, and almost always (even when the oldest is hoping the other one gets in trouble) there's a situation they lack the skill for handling, and could use some coaching on how to proceed - I just make them do the work, after problem-solving some ideas. And I don't carry around the incident in my head, so the other child may never even know they've been reported on. That helps keep it balanced, IMHO.

A kindergarten teacher friend used to have a stuffed animal who held a basket. When the kids had a complaint/tattle/fuss they were asked to write it down and give it to Tattle Terry. Amazingly this did the trick and kept a lot of tattling away from the teacher. Parents can certainly have a complaint jar or, for the non-writers, a stuffed animal who can "listen" to the complaining.

Since we are all watching the children as we talk, it's always pretty clear when something serious is going on. I think kids do well with rules that are as simple as possible, so the rule is "no tattling." It's really an ideal situation for them to figure out how to work out problems for themselves while still under our watchful eyes.

I like the idea of a tattle-free zone. The kids need the comfort of knowing the parents are there in case of emergency. They also need the character development and social benefit of settling their differences amongst one another.

I'm speaking generally, of course. There are any number of hypotheticals that would change how I view this. But for the most part, if all the kids are of the same relative age and ability, go ahead and mark off the tattle-free zone.

I teach that it is not tattling if what the other child is doing will physically harm someone or damage property. With seven and eight year olds this has been effective!

I read somewhere that most kids who tattle really just want to show you that THEY know the rules. You can just tell the tattler, "Sounds like you know the way you're supposed to behave!" and often that will satisfy the kid.
If not, I may add, "Are you telling me this because someone is in danger, or because you want someone to get in trouble?" If no one is in danger (and believe me, I appreciate a kid who will tell me that a child is in danger!) then I suggest the kid goes back to playing.
Using these techniques have reduced the tattling a great deal with my kids, and have worked pretty well for a friend of mine too.

but... isn't the desire for justice pretty natural? Shouldn't there be some kind of punishment (eg timeout) for a kid who does something nasty, even if it's not damage to physical property or bodies?

This doesn't appeal to me.

I always worked with older kids (junior high through college) and in those years you just hope the kids WILL TELL SOMEONE when something bothers them. I worry that this "don't bother us" method may teach kids that they are failures if they can't solve their own skirmishes or unhappinesses without external guidance or the guidance of adults.

I would seriously prefer to take each tattle as a teachable moment than rear a child who feels they MUST make isolated judgements in every scenario that does not involve bodily harm.

How often do you confer with a spouse or close friend over a complex situation in your family or social circle? People intrinsically seek feedback and counsel and shouldn't feel such requests for assistance in understanding are a personal failing. Wise people seek good counsel.

Oh, and we also include 'just sharing how I felt' as an okay thing, in the reporting system. If I sense outrage despite the problem having been resolved, that's time for me to encourage sharing, commiseration, empathy, reflecting their feelings back, providing a sense of being understood.

I remember the 'no tattling' rules at school being very isolating - it felt very much as if nobody cared how I felt. I do try to make sure my kids feel HEARD (often one at a time, no interrruptions, and once both stories are told, NO JUDGEMENT if the problem was resolved - just sympathetic ears, hugs all around, and carry on!). A simple, wow, you sound really upset/angry/sad/picked-on/ignored usually provides what they need, if they weren't just hoping to watch the other one get punished.

A no-tattle-zone works well to get kids out of the tattling habit, as long as all the kids are under the watchful eyes of adults. The downside is that it is easy for parents to let the no-tattle-zone become a "parent coffee break zone" where parents begin a bad downward habit of not watching kids. We're all human, and for many, this idea is a slippery slope.

I have a really hard time with tattling as an oldest child whose younger sister kept me in trouble all the time by exaggerating all of my actions.

But there's a line between petty tattling and encouraging open, valid communications that I'm trying to define right now. Both kids and most of their friends (5-8 year olds) are in a stage of constant tattling that drives me crazy. I've try to draw the line at physical danger or harm to people or expensive/otherwise precious objects .... but it hasn't sunk in yet. In the meantime, I just ask, "Are you hurt? No? Did you tell her about it? No? Why don't you do that? I didn't (push you/take the toy/say something mean/etc.) so telling me doesn't help solve the problem."

Sounds more like a "Don't bother mommy zone" to me. I think that (especially in today's society) kids need to feel free to come to adults for help no matter what the situation is.

Although there may be times when kids are tattling over non-important issues, there are also many times when it may be something important. Many kids are probably too young to differentiate between the non important and the important problems.

If you find that certain kids are excessively tattling over non-important issues, then those chilren probably need a little talk from mom or dad to help explain the difference. But a child should never be discouranged from reporting something that doesn't seem right to them.

I will usually ask the tattler to tell me the reason s/he's telling me something, and the result s/he's seeking.
"Tattling" is when you're hoping someone will get in trouble. "Telling" is when you're helping someone get *out* of trouble.

A teacher friend of mine has the rule that if no one is hurt or needing help, then you don't need to tell when someone is doing something. But that's within a classroom, which is a safe, enclosed environment. I think it's trickier in public, because an adult talking up a child or even "helping" them climb, for example, doesn't fall under the rule of someone being hurt...

Personally, if I am getting a "tattle," I use it to remind her of her problem-solving options. Some day, she'll have it down pat and the need to tattle every time can stop because she'll know how to deal. At least, that's my hope!

I believe that children should always feel free to speak to their parents or guardians. But, yes kids can be ear-splitting when there is a conflict where both think the other is wrong.

In the context of a public playground or other public area, children should absolutely be able to inform parents about possible problems. Child predators and dangerous falls are sadly too common to waste any time with 'zones'.

As a much older brother, I was often the adjudicator between my sister and brother (13 and 15 years younger). In cases of mutual tattling or petty arguing, I generally removed the source of the conflict (usually a toy they refused to share) and told them that if they couldn't work together, niether one could play with the toy.

This avoided a sense of favoritism and made both siblings responsible for learning to work out the situation, lest big brother took the toy away again.

I did not always have enough authority however, and as my brother became dangerously adventerous, I couldn't keep him safe by asking/telling him to stop.

So I developed 'self-tattling'. I would say: "Hey bro, that's really cool what you're doing. You should show mom."

He'd run off and find her, and either show or tell her about it. Bam, he was safe (though in trouble). Really only worked while he was a toddler/preschool age, then he caught on.

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