Ethical Tattletales

Oct 24, 2021

It’s a common occurrence in kindergarten. A little girl once approached me and said, “Mr. St. Romain, Michael ran all the way back from the library.” My response was the same as it always had been. “Who should you worry about, yourself or Michael?” “Myself…but we’re not supposed to do that. Are we?” she retorted in a somewhat questioning manner. There was a long pause as the wheels in my brain started to turn.
 
When children reported misbehavior I immediately thought to myself, “you’re trying to get someone in trouble. Don’t be a tattletale. Mind your own business.” However, this time I saw things in a different light. I believe this little girl was trying to sort through her understanding of right and wrong. I was watching her ethical conscious develop right before my eyes. Her gut was telling her something was wrong and her natural response was to try to do something about it. Telling me was her way of looking for validation of the behavioral concepts I had taught her.
 
I decided to take a different approach. “What do you think? Should we run in the building?” I asked. “No,” she said. “Why?” I continued. “Because we’re not supposed to,” she said. “Why are we not supposed to?” I asked. “‘Cause we could get hurt,” she said. “That sounds like a good reason,” I replied. “You know, some students in our class are still trying to break the habit of running in the building. So if you see someone running inside and you don’t want them to get hurt, what could you do?” A great discussion and teachable moment occurred – for us both.
 
Perhaps when young students tell on each other it is an indicator their ethical consciences are developing in a healthy manner. This doesn’t mean we should encourage “tattling”, but rather than dismissing it, maybe the best response is to question children in such a way that validates their understanding of the concept while encouraging empathy and helpfulness as the best response. This not only reinforces our teaching efforts but takes judgment out of the equation and helps us assume positive intent in the process. And in my book, that is a win-win if ever there was one.

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