February 03, 2021

Dealing With Tattling Young Students


Dealing with tattling can be a daunting task for most teachers. You want to keep the classroom well managed yet need time to provide necessary instruction. Complaining students need someone to tell it to and the balance is almost a form of art.

The Issue

If you are like most elementary teachers, you will find that students will often engage in the act of tattling. When you allow this action to take place, you often lose valuable time. This complaining often results in a domino effect. One example includes the action of having to briefly introduce a skill rather having the opportunity to give a thorough presentation. Thus affecting all of your student’s comprehension of a topic or concept.

On the other hand, if you don’t give your students an opportunity to express their concerns, there may be grievances. These grievances may escalate into a student not feeling safe or losing a sense of belonging to the classroom culture. As a result, the student may listen to you less and miss out on important information he or she may need to know.


It is not ideal to allow your students to develop a sense of frustration as a result of feeling that he or she cannot talk to you. When this happens, students start making random and irrational choices. To avoid this madness, it is the responsibility of the teacher to learn how to balance student tattling and know when to just ignore them. This subtle skill will allow you, as the teacher, to manage your classroom and not waste valuable time.

Solution #1

Solution #1 is designed for younger students. Enlarge a picture of a president or some well known figure. Alternatively, use a stuffed animal. Take a large picture of an ear and place it on the figure, adhere it to the wall, or the stuffed animal.

Create a personal policy that requires students whom come to you to tattle on an other student, to tell it to the poster of the figure or the stuffed animal. You might just find that students will line up to tattle to these idle objects.

Above all, if students have a serious issue, you can have them communicate it in a different way.

Solution #2

If a student is complaining about a serious issue, one alternative is to have them write it down in the “tattle” book. This should be located near the tattle poster or stuffed animal. This creates a permanent record, allows the student to feel like they are being heard and you can check it later to see if the issue is serious enough that it really needs your attention.

Solution #3

For teachers with older students, have them submit their complaints, comments and concerns. Do this by having a box with an opening that students can insert paper slips with any documented concerns written on them.

Commented sheets of paper can include the time, who was involved and any pressing concerns. You can recommend that students include only the facts. This will help clean up conflict clutter which will aid in any decisions that need to be made and minimize lost class time.

Later, at an appropriate time you can read and make determinations if intervening is necessary.

Learning the Lesson

Be proactive with conflict resolution by teaching your students the difference between reporting and tattling. As a result, this helps engage the student’s classroom code of ethics. Reporting is an example of communication used to help get an other student out of trouble. In contrast, tattling, by definition, is done in an attempt to get an other student in trouble.

You can engage student’s mental processes by creating a physical signal that encourages students to reflect. Consider is the student reporting or tattling? If the student responds by confirming they are reporting a problem, take that moment and listen to him or her.


In conclusion, it wise to balance complaining, concerns and who to tell it to. Posters with well known figures and stuffed animals are great for students to tell it to. In contrast, you need documentation and/or the facts when dealing with older student problems. Don’t allow students to make complaints anonymously. By following this recommendation you will find it is easier for you to follow-up with complaints effectively. Above all, remember that this process is a learning process for our students.