Psychology of the Tattle Monster
Most young children use tattling as a means to help them learn the difference between right and wrong and practice their understanding of good and bad behavior, a crucial life skill. Older elementary-age students often tattle to gain attention from adults, use adults to solve a problem, get someone else in trouble, or to be perceived as “good” or “better than” others, all of which are ways they assimilate social skills.
It should be clarified that you agree that saying mean things or excluding others is not acceptable behavior, but that telling on another person to keep him or her from doing something dangerous or destructive, or from harming someone, is important and the right thing to do. Children need to understand that providing this type of information to an adult does not make them weak or a “baby.” Rather, it shows that they are truly strong in character and have a clear understanding of right and wrong, which is significant to children’s life skills development.
It is also essential to make your classroom a safe environment for reporting. Students need to trust they’ll be protected if they report information to an adult in an effort to keep their peers safe. Talk about the Crime Stoppers program, and explain how it was established to keep the identity of the “reporter” safe.
Here are two more ideas to help special ed students, students with learning differences, as well as regular ed students, develop the social skills necessary to differentiate between tattling and reporting:
• Set a Challenge for a Week. Ask your students to stop a moment before they tell on someone and ask themselves a question: Am I telling because I am mad or my feelings are hurt, or am I telling because someone might get hurt or is breaking a school rule? With younger students you may need to ask them the question when they come to you the first few times.
• Role-play. Acting is an effective way to demonstrate the difference between tattling and reporting. Think of common tattling occurrences, and then ask two individuals or two groups of two to come forward. Tell each student/group what their role will be and act out the scene. Next, act out a scene that demonstrates reporting to an adult. After both scenes are played, ask the class questions about what happened in each one to clarify how tattling is different from reporting.
Yes, it can be difficult to explain the difference between tattling and reporting. However, taking the time to do so may save you countless hours in the classroom. More importantly, one day it may also save a life.
Article Author: Rachel Kaspar