Why do students love to tattle on one another? It seems as if it’s their first defense when they feel as they’ve been wronged. “I’m telling on you!” can be heard from across the student desks to around the playground. What if students had alternatives to tattling? What would it look like? How would it be taught?
This past year, I was introduced to the phrase, “It bugs me when _____, I wish you would ______.” Tamara Russell from Mrs. Russell’s Room was the first one who had shared this phrasing, and since that time I’ve seen activities across Pinterest on the topic. She has an amazing resource called I Am a Good Citizen, and you can check it out by clicking here. It has lots of activities for teaching at the beginning of the school year, or even as a refresher anytime when students need a good reminder of how to act and respond to others in appropriate ways. My favorite and most used printable was Tamara’s “bug” and “wish” posters. I referred to them just about every day throughout the school year. It not only directed students as to how to respond to controversy with other students, but it always gave me an anchor to draw students attention back to proper oral communication. It helped to add to the following mini lessons too.
Using their words--Sometimes students don’t know the words to say to someone, and it’s just easier to say, “I’m telling on you!” I found that practicing certain phrases with students helps to give them a chance to use the words/phrases in a safe moment with me coaching them. It was hard for them at first, but the more they practice the more confident they start to become. Here are some of the phrases we use to practice:
- Stop! That isn’t nice.
- I don’t like that. Don’t do that again.
- Are you mad at me? Then why are you being mean?
- It upsets me when you do/say that. I’d like an apology.
- I trusted you and now I don’t know if I can trust you again.
Body language--Students who are typically shy with sharing their feelings have difficulty looking others in the eye, or standing assertively to show their true feelings. A child might say, “Stop doing that”, but they may look away or smile, lacking the confidence or fearing they are doing something wrong in pointing out someone’s faults. These students need practice and reassurance that they have the right for their words to be heard. I would even have students look at me, in the eye, and repeat the above phrases with a stern look. I encourage them not to smile or laugh, because it give mixed signals. Putting their hands on their hips instead of wringing their hands, or playing with their hair, is another suggestion.
Choice--In some instances, students think that using the assertive words or body language gives them the right to get their way all the time. This is a common misconception with young children. Students need to realize the difference between someone being insensitive and someone wanting to choose differently. One may tell the other, “I don’t want to play that game”, but that isn’t necessarily a wrongdoing. In this case, I give students some options:
- Choose one way this time and another way next time.
- You decide or I, the teacher, can decide for you.
- If you can’t decide, then maybe you need to have a break from each other for this time (recess, afternoon, day, etc.).
Sometimes, number three above is just what the students need. One friend might be cranky that day and they just need some space. It's amazing that given the option the students may decide to give each other a "break" from one another, but very soon after they're as good as gold.
Look, listen and respond with sensitivity--Students also need to become aware that it is just as important to listen to the words other say, watch the body language others use, and choose to respond accordingly. So many students lack the sensitivity to pay attention to the reactions of others to give them cues to do and say the right thing. It's just not enough to tell students to be kind to one another. Teachers tell students to be honest and tell the truth, but sometimes the "truth" students share may hurt others. I once heard a boy making comments about another student's clothes. In doing this, the boy didn't see the hurt in the other child's face. It was a teaching moment with the boy, one-on-one with me. We talked about how the other student's face was not smiling, and that we need to consider and we need to be sensitive to how someone else may be responding after we communicate our actions or words.
We teachers teach so much more than the core academic subjects. So often we are taking out extra time to teach students how to stand up for others and themselves. This past school year, I've been proactive in using picture books to teach students to be sensitive. Picture books have great lessons that can be pulled out for not only academics but for social/emotional learning as well (think growth mindset too). Click here to see some of my favorite picture books and lessons to be ahead of the game and get students thinking about standing up for what's right.