About a year ago during recess, I was standing beside our first-grade teacher, Mrs. Knudsen, when a student ran up to her. The child excitedly shared with Mrs. Knudsen all the wrongs another student was currently committing. When the student finished listing all the perceived errors this other student was carrying out during recess, Mrs. Knudsen reminded them that the student they were accusing was not at school that day. While this was an easy opportunity to discern that they were “tattling” (Miriam-Webster definition: “to tell secrets about what someone else has done: blab; to utter or disclose in gossip or chatter”), not all situations are so easy.
At Trinity Academy, we strive for students to learn many skills, including self-sufficiency, self-advocacy, and conflict resolution. This requires us to not always immediately intervene when there is an issue – sometimes we intentionally let students work through the struggle to help them learn how to deal with similar, future events. At other times we step-in to either help guide students through the conflict or to provide a model for addressing the conflict. Where does the intervention line exist? When is it appropriate for a student to work through the challenge on their own versus involving an adult?
While we are not always 100% right (and who is?), there are a few guiding questions that we use to identify the difference between when a student is “tattling” or when they are “telling” (Miriam-Webster definition: “to relate in detail, to make known”) with the desire to involved adult intervention. Following are some questions we can ask students (in varying language as age and situation appropriate):
- Is someone being physically hurt or in danger of being hurt?
- If so, this is always a time we need students to involve an adult.
- Example: a child sees another student climb onto a wall they should not climb and are at risk of falling and injuring themselves.
- What is the purpose of involving an adult? What do you want as an outcome?
- Is it to get someone in trouble? Is it to stop something that is interfering with your learning or making you upset?
- Sometimes students share a concern that is not related to them in anyway – it is not interfering with their learning and no one is being harmed but they just want to see a wrong (in their eyes) made right. There are times this maybe should be shared but there are times that this should not be shared. The best way for students to learn this difference is to ask them the purpose of their decision to share – what is their goal and reason?
- If appropriate, have you tried to address the situation yourself?
- Have you asked them to stop? What was their response?
- To help students learn correct self-advocacy, we often want them to address the situation first. Many times it is either a misunderstanding or the other student realizes their error and apologizes, and all move forward, playing happily.
There is no magical formula. Students will sometimes share when they should not and students will sometimes not share when they should; likewise, there may be times that we misread a situation despite our best efforts and intentions. At Trinity, we seek to come along-side students to help guide them through understanding their own motivations and the proper actions that should follow.
Here are some suggestions for parents regarding conflict between siblings or friends, as these are often conversations teachers have with students as well:
- Connect their actions to scripture, even before something arises. For example, use 1 Thessalonians 4 to speak on what we have been tasked to do and, when a student is tattling to you, remind them of their assigned task.
- Ask if it pertains to them or remind them of who is their responsibility to take care of (themselves).
- When they are telling on behalf of someone else: State that you appreciate that they are trying to care for someone but we need to help that person also learn how to speak for themselves; direct your child to encourage them to come tell an adult instead of your child acting as a go-between. Note that this excludes times when the other person is in danger.
- Do not accept 3rd party reporting – “so-and-so told me that this was happening to someone else…” as that almost always end up involving misunderstandings and confusion.
- When it is an opportunity for them to self-advocate directly to the other child first, have them go back to the person and see if they can work it out themselves. Sometimes this conversation needs to happen with you present to help guide and model while other times it can happen without you.
- Listen to your child and remind yourself that it is a learning process for them. They will not always get it right so use those opportunities to help guide them through how to process their response.