Reporting vs. tattling: Reminding kids to use the power of their voice to resolve conflict

Often, when I’m around large groups of children, I’ll inevitably hear several of them shout, “I’m telling!”

Usually, their shouts follow some minor altercation – like after one child pulled another one’s scarf or one child drew on another one’s paper. Unfortunately, the chorus of too many shouts can tend to negate the importance of each individual voice and the problem they want to solve. And, sometimes, the repeated chorus of shouts can become a bit much and it seems easier to ask the children not to tell on each other or stop being a “tattle tale” versus to personally work with each child to solve each problem.

How do I know? Because I’ve been guilty of doing just that.

At home, in the stress of the moment, I’ve found myself asking my sons to stop “tattling” on each other and, instead, to work things out on their own.

But, I was recently reminded by the senior teacher, or shihan, at my younger son’s karate studio that it’s not always the best approach to take with children.

Rather, we need to encourage children to use the power of their words to “voice” a conflict or problem and work with us, as adults, to solve it together.

To the shihan, it’s about “reporting” a conflict. And, her use of the word “report” versus “tattle” is an important one.

An important lesson from the karate dojo

You see, last week, the shihan took a few moments at the end of class to address an incident that had occurred in the locker room between two students.

She calmly told the students (and the parents there in the waiting area) that one child had made an unkind comment to another child, and it hurt his feelings.

The shihan used the incident as an opportunity to talk about the importance of using your most important “tool” when something bad or wrong happens to you – your voice.

Yes, in a place where young students train on how to punch, kick and block, the shihan made a point to remind them that their words should be the first thing they use to try to resolve a conflict.

Ever the teacher, the shihan coached the students that, if something like this should happen to them, they should say something like “stop,” or “that’s wrong,” or even “that’s not what we do here.”

But, it doesn’t stop there.

The child then needs to use his or her voice to “report” the incident to an adult. Or, at the karate dojo, to one of the teachers.

Yes, the shihan was very clear that they were “reporting” an incident vs. “tattling” on someone. And, that is an important distinction indeed.

“Report” to help resolve a conflict

The shihan was very clear that “reporting” an incident would not be done to just get someone in trouble. Rather, it would be done to help the other child understand why what they had done was wrong, and then allow the adult to teach the child how to prevent that same behavior in the future.

Yes, one child’s voice could help stop a certain behavior and help prevent it from being repeated.

And, that really resonated with me.

Because, the shihan, in just a few minutes, had told the young students that they have the power to make a difference with their “voice.”

It made me think about the potential harm that could be done by repeatedly telling children to “stop tattling” or “work it out on their own.” And, it made me wonder if I could be unknowingly telling my children to not stand up for themselves when someone doesn’t treat them well or they see others being mistreated, too.

As a parent, I want my sons to be upstanders, or people who are “present during any social interaction and take action to ensure a positive outcome,” versus bystanders, or people who are “present at an event or incident but do not take part.”

I want my sons to “report” wrongdoings against themselves or others so that bad or wrong behavior can be stopped. And, I want them to know that others are there to help them when needed – they just need to say something. And, I want them to know that others will be there to “report” their behavior should they choose to make unwise decisions, too.

At the end of the day, I never want my sons to feel like they can’t use the power of their voice to stop something, make a change, or get help. And, I’m grateful to my younger son’s shihan for the gentle reminder.

Replace “tattle” with “report”

So, as of that day, I no longer use the word “tattle.” Instead, I’ve started to encourage my sons to “report” issues or problems whenever they arise, and have thanked them when they’ve done just that.

Of course, I know there will be plenty of times when they seem to keep coming to me about lots of little things they should be able to solve for themselves. But, that, to me, is just part of the learning process.

As a parent, I feel like I need to help my sons understand they have the support they need – for the little and big things in life. And, I can only hope that they’ll go from raising small issues like another child taking their scarf or drawing on their paper, to using the power of their voice to report bigger issues in life when necessary.

For me, it’s just one more part of being a “world citizen.”

What do you think? Should we strike the word “tattle” from our vocabulary? Do you think it’s important for kids to use the power of their voice to “report” incidents, too? How have you encouraged your children to tell you about incidents or conflicts? And, how have you worked to resolve them together? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.


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