Classroom Guidance, School Counseling

Tattling: How to Help Students Make Positive Changes

Do you have students who are tattling all day long? They just love to keep tabs on everyone and don’t want teachers to miss one. single. thing?  Tattling can be so frustrating for teachers and peers, but helping these students understand when it’s appropriate to tell is an important social skill that can be addressed in individual counseling or classroom guidance! To manage tattling behaviors, I seek to understand why the student is tattling, explicitly teach appropriate behavior, and give the student positive alternative behaviors.

Tattling: helping students make positive changes and stop tattling!

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Understand Why The Student Does It

As with all undesired behavior, my first suggestion is always, always, always going to be figure out the purpose of the behavior. Is the student tattling to gain or earn affirmation from the teacher? Is the student tattling to avoid some task or punishment for himself? Does the student feel like something is unfair in the classroom? Take a look at the antecedents and figure out what sorts of reinforcements are encouraging the behavior. Then, you can create a plan to change the stage and reinforce the more desirable behavior of not tattling or telling when it is appropriate.

Explicitly Teach Tattling vs. Telling

More often than not, these little tattlers genuinely need to be explicitly taught when it is appropriate to tell or get help and when it is not. There are some great books out there to address this topic! Here are a few of my favorites:

We talk about situations in which it is appropriate to tell or get help:

  • Someone is hurt or sick
  • Someone is in danger or a situation is unsafe
  • There is a problem that you’ve tried to work out on your own

And situations in which it is not appropriate to tattle:

  • Someone else is not doing what they’re supposed to be doing
  • Someone has something that you want
  • You have a problem that you haven’t tried to solve on your own
  • You didn’t get your way

To help drive home the point, I like to help students look at specific situations (often coincidentally tailored to the things they like to tattle about… hmmm funny how that works). In this activity, we read a story together about the Tattle Snake and the Get Help Goat and then read situations and sort them into bags:


At the end of the activity, we make little flip books to review what is an appropriate situation to tell or get help and what would be considered tattling. Students can keep these on their desks as a reminder when they feel the urge to tattle.

Give Appropriate Alternative Behaviors

Teach personal problem solving skills

If your student is tattling due to problems or disagreements with peers, it’s imperative to develop problem solving skills. Teach your students to

  • Use I statements. “I feel frustrated when you take things off of my desk. Can you please ask if you need to borrow something?”
  • Have calm conversations to brainstorm solutions. “We both want to be the team leader. What are some solutions?”
  • Ignore. Use ignoring strategies like moving to another area, looking another way, or intensely focusing on something else.
  • Know when to walk away. Sometimes situations are frustrating but not a big deal in the long run. Help students label issues as a big deal or a little deal. Little deal problems don’t need to be reported while big deal problems like being injured or unsafe definitely should be reported.

Keep a record of others showing kindness

If your students is one who just needs to keep up with others, change the game. Give your student a log to record when others show kindness or help others. Then, at the end of the day, meet with the student so he or she can “tattle” all the positive things he or she noticed!

Tell a stuffed animal

If your student needs to let out the words, give him or her a stuffed friend to tell. This will save your classroom teacher’s sanity and time, and in my experience, the allure wears off after a while and the tattling behavior begins to be extinguished. I have a Tattle-Me-Elmo (no batteries, so no giggles), and a friend of mine uses a Tattle Turtle. Her students write down their tattles and tuck them under the turtle’s shell!

Understanding why the student is tattling, explicitly teaching appropriate and expected behaviors and then offering replacement behaviors that students can channel that energy into have helped me to overcome the tattle battle! What strategies do you use to help students quit the tattling habit? Let me know in the comments!

Happy Counseling! -Counselor Keri