Taming Tattling: Teach Kids the Difference Between Tattling and Telling

Part of our Counselor’s Corner series. Click to read other posts in the Counselor’s Corner.

Tattling is a problem faced by parents and teachers alike, with children kindergarten age and beyond. You can tame tattling—and communicate the importance of telling—by teaching children the difference between tattling and telling.

When I teach lessons to students about tattling and telling, I break it down for them by explaining:

  • Tattling is saying something to get someone else in trouble. Tattling is about a kid-sized problem.
  • Telling is helping keep someone safe. Telling is about an adult-sized problem.

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Here’s an activity I do to help students tell the difference. To start, come up with several “Tattling” and “Telling” scenarios relevant to your students. I love adding movement to my lessons and getting students out of their seats, so I make two signs—one that says “Tattle” and the other says “Tell”—and hang them on opposite sides of the room. Then I read the scenarios to the class and ask the students to determine if the child in the situation would be tattling if he or she reported the incident or if it is a situation where the student should tell. Students move to the “Tattle” side of the room if they think the scenario was tattling and move to the “Tell” side of the room if they think the scenario is appropriate to tell an adult. Seeing the students move in response allows me to see if they understand the difference and who needs more support to get the concept.

After each scenario, we discuss why the problem was “Tattle” or “Tell” and come up with solutions to solve the “kid-sized problems.”

Here are some sample scenarios:

  • A classmate fell on the playground and is bleeding. Answer: Tell. This is an adult-sized problem. Someone is hurt and he or she needs help.
  • Someone took my pencil. Answer: Tattle. This is a kid-sized problem. Discuss ways you could solve this problem on your own.
  • Someone is calling you names. Answer: Tattle or tell. This usually starts as a kid-sized problem, so first tell the student to stop and you do not like it. If the problem continues, tell your teacher or another adult you trust! (Teachers: Make sure to emphasize that bullying is a situation where it is important to tell an adult. Bullying is an adult-sized problem and children need help from adults to solve it.)
  • Someone stuck out her or his tongue. Answer: Tattle. This is a kid-sized problem. Discuss ways you could solve this problem on your own.

How do you tame tattling in your classroom or school?


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Suggested Resources
Don’t Squeal Unless It’s a Big Deal by Jeanie Franz Ransom
A Bad Case of Tattle Tongue by Julia Cook
Downloadable Tattle/Tell signs for game


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About Danielle R. Schultz

School Counselor blogger for Free Spirit Publishing Blog
This entry was posted in Counselor's Corner, Early Childhood, Teaching Strategies and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Taming Tattling: Teach Kids the Difference Between Tattling and Telling

  1. Leanne Cherie Strong says:

    Hi, if you prefer not to use terms such as “reporting,” or, “tattling,” I have some ideas for ways you can phrase it. You can replace “tattling,” with, “I DO NOT NEED to tell an adult if,” and “reporting,” can be replaced with, “I SHOULD tell an adult if.”

    You SHOULD tell an adult if:

    You are being made to feel unsafe or uncomfortable.

    Somebody else is being made to feel unsafe or uncomfortable.

    Somebody is doing something harmful or destructive.

    Somebody talks about doing something harmful or destructive.

    You are sick or injured.

    Somebody else is sick or injured.

    You have tried to handle the situation yourself several times, and have been unsuccessful.

    There is no other way to go about the issue.

    You DO NOT NEED to tell an adult if:

    You are not being made to feel unsafe or uncomfortable.

    No one else is being made to feel unsafe or uncomfortable.

    No one is doing anything harmful or destructive.

    No one talks about doing anything harmful or destructive.

    You are not sick or injured.

    No one else is sick or injured.

    You have not tried solving the problem yourself enough times, or some of the strategies you have tried have been successful.

    There is another way to handle the situation.

    Here are some examples of times when I SHOULD tell an adult:

    “Lisa and Susan were talking about how they were planning on buying something from Starbucks, and then leaving without paying. I told them, ‘don’t do that girls, that’s stealing!”

    What Susan and Lisa were talking about doing is considered stealing, and if you don’t tell an adult about this BEFORE it happens, they could get in trouble with the law.

    “Greg keeps saying this, and I don’t like it. I have asked him several times not to say it, and he keeps saying it.”

    If Greg keeps saying something, even though you have already asked him several times not to say it, then it’s pretty obvious that either he isn’t getting the message, or he is saying it to make you feel unsafe or uncomfortable.

    “Brandi told me that her mom hurts her physically.”

    Even if Brandi’s mom has never made you feel unsafe or uncomfortable, she is obviously making Brandi feel that way. Brandi and her mom both need help, and by telling an adult, you are helping to make sure that they both get the help they need. Brandi needs to understand that this is very serious business, and that none of what is happening to her is her fault, even if her mom tries to make it seem like it is. It is her mom’s fault.

    “Kyle threatened Josh.”

    Even if Kyle was not making you feel unsafe or uncomfortable, he was obviously making Josh feel that way. By telling an adult, you are helping to make sure that they both get the help they need. If Kyle meant it as a joke, he needs to understand that this is very serious business.

    “Megan touched my private area.”

    It is actually ILLEGAL for ANYBODY to touch your private area, unless you have made it clear to them that you are okay with it. It is also ILLEGAL for YOU to touch ANYBODY ELSE’S private area, unless they have made it clear that they are okay with it. If you don’t tell, Megan might do it to you again, or she might do it to other people. In addition, it is ILLEGAL for ANY adult to have a romantic relationship with ANY minor.

    “David tried to get me to touch his private area.”

    It is ILLEGAL for ANYBODY to try to get you to touch their private parts, if you have not made it clear that you are okay with it. It is also ILLEGAL for YOU to try to get ANYBODY ELSE to touch YOUR private parts, if they have not made it clear that they are okay with it.

    “Claire is showing her private parts/”

    It may make someone feel very uncomfortable if someone shows their private parts, and by telling an adult, you are helping to make sure that Claire does not do this again, and gets the help she needs.

    “Brian tried to get me to show my private parts.”

    It may also make someone feel very uncomfortable if someone tries to get them to show their private parts, and by telling an adult, you are helping to make sure that Brian, and any others who were involved, get the help they need, and that Brian does not do this ever again.

    “Justin keeps cutting in line. I have reminded him to wait his turn on several occasions, but he won’t stop cutting in line.”

    If you have needed to remind Justin on several occasions to wait his turn, and he keeps cutting in line, then it’s pretty obvious that either he’s not getting the message, or he is doing it to make you or others feel uncomfortable or unsafe.

    “Diane hit me.”

    Diane obviously did this to make you feel uncomfortable or unsafe. If you did or said something that hurt her feelings, then she should have CALMLY told you that what you did or said hurt her feelings. If she needed to remind you several times, and you kept saying or doing it, then she should have told an adult instead of hitting you.

    Here are some examples of times when I DO NOT NEED to tell an adult:

    “Noah took the last of the strawberry ice cream, and he won’t let Jessica have it. We begged and pleaded with him to let Jessica have it, and he still won’t let her have it.”

    Jessica can either pick a different flavor of ice cream, or she can choose not to have ice cream at all. Noah does not need to know that Jessica really wanted strawberry.

    “LaQuisha said this, and I didn’t like it.”

    You can CALMLY tell LaQuisha, “LaQuisha, it really hurts my feelings when people say that, so please don’t say it again.”

    “Brad cut in line.”

    Brad may have been behaving rudely, but was he making anybody feel unsafe or uncomfortable? You can CALMLY tell him, “Brad, please go to the back of the line. I know you are hungry, but so is everyone else who was waiting in line before you.” Or, “Brad, please wait your turn. I know it is hard to wait, but it is something we all have to do sometimes.”

    “I couldn’t get a drink, because Amber took too long at the vending machine.”

    Amber might have been behaving inconsiderately, but was she making anybody feel unsafe or uncomfortable? You can go to the drinking fountain instead. OR you can bring your own water bottle, and fill it up periodically.

    “Nick is in the wrong spot.”

    It is not going to hurt anybody or anything if Nick is in a different spot from where he should be.

    “Ashley didn’t save me a seat on the bus, like she said she would.”

    Maybe Ashley forgot? You can CALMLY tell Ashley that if she says she is going to do something, and then doesn’t do it, after a while, people aren’t going to trust or like her.

    “Aidan is doodling on his paper, instead of doing his work.”

    Unless you are in a position of authority, it is not your job to make sure everybody is doing exactly as they should.

    “Brittnee is doing her work the wrong way.”

    See above.

  2. Pingback: The Difference Between “Tattling” and “Reporting”. Does Your Child Know the Difference? | Van Allen News

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  4. DJNZ says:

    Love this idea… I love something that has kids up and moving and learning… Thanks for sharing.

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