Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Tattling Tennis

Here is the basic way I handle tattling, when a child tries to involve me in a problem she ought to handle on her own--I think of it as a tennis match. Let's take an example, and I'll show you.

Morgan: "MOM!!!! Ryan just threatened to cover me in snot balls!!!!!!" (the serve)

Me: "Well, what did you say to Ryan about that?" (the return)

Morgan: "Well I said 'I don't LIKE that, Ryan!' but he won't stop!" ('He won't stop' is a return to me, a request for me to do something rather than her. Fortunately this is an easy lob to hit as we're all in the car and I'm a direct witness to the events.)

Me: "It doesn't sound to me like he is continuing with the threats. Sounds like you handled it." (right back at her)

Morgan: "But MOM!" (her ball goes wild)

Me: "It sounds like you're still mad and that's okay. But you told Ryan how you felt and he stopped, so you handled this problem all by yourself." (Game, set, match!)

Every time, as long as it doesn't require me to get involved, I send that ball right back to her and make her handle it. Every time, and sometimes these things last a while.

Also, if the child tells a lie in her effort to get me to take her side, I acknowledge that I heard the lie (because I try never to let any lie go by) at the same time I send the responsibility back to her. In the example above, she claimed he was continuing the threats.

Now I know that he could have been kicking the back of her seat or continuing his behavior in a non-verbal way, but I truly didn't hear him. Stating my observation that I couldn't hear continued threats of snot balls was a way of helping her know that I knew she was fibbing.

If she hadn't been, she'd certainly have tried to set my mistaken impression straight by providing some inkling that Ryan was threatening her non-verbally. She didn't do that, so I must conclude she was stretching the truth to make her case (is that rhetoric, Kelly?). She also backed down from that plan of attack when I made that statement--no point in telling a lie if mom isn't going to buy it, maybe.

Now that I'm really good at Tattling Tennis, I almost enjoy it. :o)


Stephanie Ozenne said...

Fun perspective. It's always better to find a way to enjoy something than to get annoyed - I'm going to try to adopt this and start playing tattling tennis at my house, too!

Kate Yoak said...

I've been trying to do something similar. However, there is a challenge because my kids are so young. I've had a lot of success with "tell X how you feel." It works a lot of the time and encourages the kids to do it on their own. However, the problem is when the behavior does not stop or if the complaint is not reasonable, such as a "she is not sharing" thing. In this case, I try to identify the underlying issues. "I think, Lily might be a little tired today. Perhaps we should try to give her extra space" or attempt to offer a tool I would use "can you think of something that would make her happy?" "May be you can offer her a choice - that usually works for me!"

Aaaand on other days I just say, "Would you all just please stop your complaining!" Those are the bad days. And on the medium days it sounds more like "Well, keep trying. I am sure, you'll figure out a solution that makes everyone happy." I am actually often surprised at how well that sometimes works.

Jenn Casey said...

Thanks for your comments!

Kate, this is definitely a "game" I can play more easily with my 8.5 and 5.5 year olds. I think Lily is about Sean's age, is that right? I am beginning to teach him this strategy, too, though he is too young for me to expect him to handle this independently. Or even well.

When he has a problem with one of the others, he comes crying to me. I comfort him and give him words to say to the offender: "You could say 'Morgan, it's my turn!' or 'Stop, Ryan!'" Very short things that he is capable of saying. Then I will walk him over and help him say those words--this is dependent on the child somewhat. Morgan wanted me to hold her hand while *I* said the words. Sean seems to have no problem parroting back what I'd just suggested, and with inflection and vehemence, too!

So this is a way of teaching a two year old these tools that he will be able to use later. I am helping him learn that these are his problems to resolve and that I will assist him in resolving them, but I am not going to swoop in and make a unilateral judgment.

I also spend a lot of time, as you do, explaining Sean's POV to the other kids. "He's feeling mad." or "He is trying to tell you he wants space."

Of course, Tattling Tennis is sometimes only the first step. There are times when I do need to intervene, but as my older kids mature I am finding that is less and less frequent. Once I get Sean all trained up, I'll have SO much more free time! :o)

John Drake said...

Great title. It certainly got me to read your post. Tattling Tennis is something I'm working on, but not very good at yet. But I like your idea of making it a game. That is something I can win :)