Wednesday, June 24, 2009

No more tattling - "The Steps"

I remember an early Mommy Guilt experience quite vividly. I was with a group of Moms and young kids. One of the little ones was whining across the room, tattling on another kid. A mom asked, "Who is that?" (because there were a jillion kids and they all sounded the same). Another mom replied, "Well, it's not my kid. They KNOW not to tattle."

It was one of those moments where you go into a total daydream, evaluating how your kids DO tattle, and you know it's not a great habit, but at the same time you DO want to know if your preschooler is playing in the toilet. So, when is tattling okay and when is it not? And how do you teach and enforce this? And WAS it my kid doing the whining, meaning: which of us moms just totally got verbally slammed by "my kids KNOW not to tattle" mom?

I started a little process. I have no idea how it developed in my brain. It just made sense and I tried it and it worked within the parameters of when to rat out someone and when to handle it yourself. We call it "The Steps." It goes for all of my children and also any child who is visiting our home. If you're new around here, we teach you "The Steps."

Here are ... "The Steps" (are you tired of me saying, "The Steps" yet?):

First, if someone is endangering themselves or someone else, run like the wind and TELL ON THEM! Note: touching your bug catcher without your permission does not qualify. We are talking fire, electrical shock, broken bones or guts hanging out.

Typically it starts when one child does something offensive to another child (hits, takes away something, uses an ugly voice, or perhaps says a word your mom says all the time, but one of the neighborhood kids says, "Ummmmm, we're not supposed to say that!" ... not that this EVER happens at my house - just hypothetical, ya' know).

The offended child gives the other child a chance to change their behavior. We learn through practice. You say something very nice, like, "Could you please say that with a nice voice?" or "Would you please not hit me with the Barbie because I took the Barbie shoes you wanted?" or "Would you please not say, 'freakin,' because we don't say that at our house ... and isn't your dad a preacher?" *cough*

The other child has an opportunity to stop or change their behavior. Nine times out of 10, they will do this. Everyone likes a second chance. It also gives them the opportunity to say, "Okay. Oh, and could we SHARE the Barbies shoes instead of you hogging them?"

If the child does NOT stop or change their behavior then you find an adult and say, "I need some help." Note: you do not say, "Mooooooooooom, so-and-so just ..." Nope. If that happens, you say, "Oh, bummer. I guess they get away with it. Next time I hope you'll stick with the script: 'Mom, I need some help.'"  We have all memorized that phrase.

If you don't use your steps or you forget how to use your steps with a nice voice ... well, you join get to jump on the make-a-repair train together.

If someone comes running up to me tattling, I say, "Sounds like someone has forgotten how to use Steps!" If they walk up saying, "Mom I need some help in here," I automatically know they are working the process and staying in control.

In the beginning, you have to verbally walk them through it. "Whoops! You forgot the whole Steps thing. Here is how it works. Let's take a do-over and practice." It teaches wonderful lessons, and has done wonders with my attachment challenged children who live in a state of blame and fear and need for control. We can stop an evaluate when The Steps break down and they get themselves into a mess. Those are times we talk through how well The Steps would have worked for them!

The Steps.

They're a beautiful thing.


Kerrie said...

Ooooooh. Yay! I do that, but I was missing a title for it that the kids would recognize.

kristal said...

they sound beautiful! is there anything more grating then a whiney tattle? ooh i hate it! we will be "steppin out" in our home today...thanks!!

Hannah_Rae said...

This will be GREAT to use with our boys. :) We also use the "Are you telling me this to be helpful or hurtful" phrase from Conscious Discipline. The behavior modification program our boys are coming from uses steps for everything, so this is something they are used to.

Way to make it simple!



Little Wonder said...

YES! We do this too...don't call it "Steps" but I always say, you need to use your words to the offending person first and if that doesn't work, then you come and get me!

Cheryl said...

RAD or not, this is good stuff!

Brenda said...

I like labeling it "the steps". Brilliant as always my dear.

marythemom said...

We've been able to distinguish between tattling and letting a parent know someone is hurt or about to be hurt, but have not found a recourse that doesn't involve "parenting" (a big no no in our house for one kid to tell another kid what to do).

I LOVE the steps. It will hopefully help the kids learn to handle things themselves without resorting to physical violence, and still get me involved when needed.

Thank you,
Mary in Texas

Parkerchica said...

The tattling issue is just beginning to rear its ugly reptilian head at our house. Thanks for the advice.

happygeek said...

I was trying to figure out how to do deal with the tattling and still know when one is finger-painting with poop.
Thanks for the idea.

Jesus is a Friend of Mine.

familygregg said...


I add:

"Is their offense/sin of unrighteous anger/smacking you with a Barbie/not preferring others before themselves..... worse than....... your offense/sin of being a puffed up prideful tattler who doesn't prefer others before yourself?"

Usually, they realize quickly that one offense is no better or worse than another...just different. Equally sinful (missing the bulls eye)....just different consequences.

If our kids "tattle"..."truly tattle"...they are disciplined. I CANNOT stand tattling. It so gets under my skin because it reeks of self righteousnes and white washed tombs.

Can you tell I HATE tattling?

Amy Ellen said...

Love it. We do something very similar, but I must include the phrase, "Did you use your steps?" I think that will make it seem more simple to the kids...

Thanks for sharing!
Amy Ellen at

T & T Livesay said...

you are freakin brilliant. don't tell Michael i said it that way though.

and - my favorite is when our Noah comes running and says "Isaac is going to come tattle on meeeeee" -- tattling on the tattler before he tattles is not good ... two tattles don't make a right. or something like that.

Zimms Zoo said...

That is exactly what I tell me kids. I spend a lot of time telling them to go through the steps again.

Babs said...

We took it in the same, but slightly different direction. We aren't allowed to use "he did" or "she did" statements.
Our kids have to find a way to tell us what is going on by using an "I" statement because "you"s and such throw blame and don't get to the heart of the problem. We talk about the problem, not about the person

After a while they got smart enough to phrase their sentences in such a way that they are still talking ABOUT someone without using you, he, or she...but I consider that evolution of using your words...and they're still abiding by the rules so...


Summer said...

I've been trying the heck out of this since you told me about it at the park. And, well, it's been a no go. But i'm going to keep on trying. I figure sooner or later they've got to hear me when I speak. LOL

Christine said...

Summer, at their age you have to role play constantly.

"Evan, what is it Trey Trey did which you did not like? Oh, he took your dinosaur and whacked you in the face. Okay, let's come over here and try it again ... repeat after me."

Lots of praise. If he refuses to say it, you say something like, "Wow. You must be so exhausted to not even be able to say kind words. I wouldn't want you to tire out too quickly. I think you need about a five minute rest." ;)

Lisa said...

You couldn't have posted this at a better time. You're brilliant!!!!

Recovering Noah said...

Will you please come live with me and take care of my kids? I think they would totally thrive under your supervision and constant patience.

Better yet? Can I send them to live with you?? ;-)

Sean's Ladies said...

This is just what we do, only we just say Matthew 18. Go to your (sister) first with her sin. Then if she does not repent, come get Mommy/Daddy and we will go to them together.