Monday, April 21, 2014

Turn Tattletales into Assertive Problem Solvers

One of every teacher's worst nightmares is the Tattletale.  These are the kids that constantly tell you about all the other people that are bothering them.  Everything that happens, all day long.  For some kids this means 20-30 complaints a day.

Let's check my log from today and see what we find from ONE particular child:

He took my pencil.
She is touching me.
She called me a bad word.
He pushed me.
She wasn't sharing.
.... it goes on and on.

As a teacher of 25 students, having several children logging their complains all day can be overwhelming.  When I first started teaching I acted as judge for my students.  I solved their problems by acting in their behalf.  What I found was that the Tattletale never runs out of complaints, no matter how often you try to help.  I tried different gimmicks like the Tattling Journal (notebook where everyone could log their complaints), a big ear on the wall to whisper your problems to, and having students write notes to the person that bothered them.  None worked.

The thing I didn't understand was that children need to learn to solve their own problems.  It is a life skill. It is a skill that some adults I know never learned, which makes me think this is very old problem.  So I searched for answers.

What I landed on was pretty simple.  It was a very easy conflict resolution routine that I could teach to my kids.  It removed me from the position of judge to the position of mediator.  Life got better.

The system in a nutshell:

1) Someone does something you don't like "You took my pencil!"
2) You tell them you don't like it "I don't like it when you take my pencil, can I have it back please?"
3) They can say sorry "I am sorry I took your pencil.  I won't do it again."  or 
4) You have 3 choices- ignore them, move away from them or ask for help

After teaching this routine and role playing situations for a few days, tattling declines significantly.  The Tattletale learns that they can stick up for themselves and doesn't rely on the adult to solve their problems.  For serious Tattlers, it might take a few weeks (or months in some cases) to break them of their habit of telling adults.  This also has an affect on the kids who are not being nice- people standing up to them and they stop (or at least reduce) their negative behavior.

For more serious conflicts, we do a Stop, Drop and Talk.  This is when two kids are in conflict on a regular basis, but have trouble solving the issue through simple dialogue.

The steps now become:

1) The teacher asks the first student, "What do you want ___ to do?"
2) The teacher asks the second student, "What do you want ___ to do?"
3)  The teacher tell each student what the other wants.  "Student1 wants you to stop calling them names. Student2 wants you to stop being mean on the bus with her sister."
4) The teacher instructs them to talk and find a solution that makes them both happy.  "Talk to each other and come up with a plan where you two can get along and be nice to each other.  Let me know when you have solved the problem."

I swear that most of the time not only does the conflict disappear- but the kids actually become better friends!  Something about finding a solution together is powerful.

There are some important distinctions I make though, so that child can still come to me when there is something big going on:
  • physical abuse/hurting others
  • sexual abuse 
  • someone is in danger
Kids need to know that these things are never allowable and need immediate intervention.

Teaching kids to be assertive is a life skill that they need to be successful in life.  As much as we want to protect our kids, we can't always be there when they need it.  Nor is it good for kids to think that only adults can solve their problems.  The assertive child know that they can stick up for themselves and solve problems.  They also know the kinds of problems that do warrant adult intervention. 


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