By Thomas Haller and Chick Moorman
This month marks the anniversaries of the Virginia Tech shooting that happened on April 16, 2007, and the shooting at Columbine High School that took place on April 20, 1999. When you couple those two events with the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary four months ago, it is clear that more needs to be done to stop these violent explosions of anger.
In addition to these highly visible and tragic events, there are many smaller disturbing incidents of children sniffing substances, bringing a knife to school, using drugs, bullying, sexually harassing, etc. What can we as parents do to prevent and deal with these problems and protect our children? Nothing, if we don't know about them.
If a young girl or boy is being harassed with sexual innuendos after school, what can you do? Precious little if no one informs you.
What if sixth graders are sniffing rubbing alcohol in the back of the bus? How are you going to handle that? You’re not, if you don’t know about it.
What is your next move if your child's best friend is sneaking pills from his mother's medicine cabinet? Same answer. You will not be able to protect your child because you are unaware that a problem even exists.
Unless your child or someone else's child informs an adult of the problem, it will go on unabated. Children need to be taught to speak up. Unfortunately, they learn very early not to be a "snitch" on their peers. They are often instructed in school not to be a "tattletale."
The problem remains: if kids don't report, adults can't assist. Therefore, it behooves us to teach children when and how to report correctly. These are the do's and don'ts of helping kids learn the valuable skill of reporting:
Do rename tattling. Tattling is a negative word with negative connotations. Because we call it tattling and define that as bad, we work to eliminate it in our children. They learn very early that telling on others is a bad thing. We suggest you call it "reporting." Reporting doesn't have a negative association attached to it. In fact, we even pay people in our society to do reporting. Don't we all wish someone had reported the possibility of violence before the Columbine, Virginia Tech, and Sandy Hook massacres?
Do not help children learn cute and clever criteria for determining when to report a situation, behavior, or circumstance. The parent or teacher who wants to hear the information only if it involves "the 3 B's"—barf, blood, or being hurt—is one example. Another is the parent who asks of a child who wants to report something about a sibling, "Is it going to get them in or out of trouble?" If it's going to get them out of trouble, he wants to hear the report. If the reporting is designed to get the other child into trouble, the parent instructs the reporter to keep it to himself. This is not helpful.
Do not teach children that there is an inappropriate time to report. Instruction on when not to report is misguided and unhelpful to the child's development as a self-responsible human being. It is always valuable to report.
Do help children identify the right person to report to. The important issue in helping children learn about appropriate reporting behavior is not when to report. The critical decision about reporting involves WHO to report to. We must help children learn to report to the right person. When a child reports to you or to any other adult that a classmate was passing rubbing alcohol around on the bus and asking students to sniff it, he is reporting to the right person. If a child tells you his brother got sick in the bathroom, he is reporting to the exact person who needs to hear the report.
Do teach children about reporting to the wrong person. If a child reports to you that his sister won't give him a turn on the swing, he has reported to the wrong person. Your job in this instance is to help him find the correct person to report to and teach him how to do it effectively. Say, "Sounds like you're wanting a turn. That's something you need to report to your sister, Cherrie. Would you like me to help you come up with an appropriate way to tell her?" Then accompany the child to the scene and coach him through the dialogue, making sure he is heard. Later, after a few attempts with you being present, you can send your son off alone to report his feelings and desires to the person who most needs to hear them.
High school students can be taught to report to the person sitting next to them that they don’t like it when answers are copied from their paper. The correct person to report to in this case is the person doing the copying. If several instances of reporting to this correct person are unsuccessful, a new "correct person" emerges to report to—the teacher.
Young children can be taught to report to the person who steps on their toe, not to an adult. Middle-school students can be taught to report bullying when they notice the victim is unable or unwilling to stand up for herself. First, they can report their feelings to the bully. If that doesn’t work, they can report to an adult.
Do not accept value judgments. Teach your child to give you facts. "Arturo is being mean" is a value judgment, an interpretation. "Arturo hits and pinches people on the bus" states behavioral facts. "Fatima is being rude" is an interpretation of the facts. "Fatima is calling people names and threatening them" are the descriptive facts.
Do give your children the words to use when reporting. Teach them this sentence for reporting to any adult: "I need your help. Tommy is _________ . I have asked him to stop and he won't. Will you help me?" To report to another child, give your son or daughter these words: "We don’t talk to each other that way in this family," or "I feel _________ because______________. I would like it if you would_____________________."
Do teach children when they need to report to themselves. If another child’s behavior is not bothering anyone and is not potentially harmful, the child may need to say something to himself, such as, "This isn't my issue," or "This is not a major concern."
Do not dismiss the reporting of a child. Telling youngsters to "suck it up" or "ignore it and it will go away" is counterproductive. It will teach your child that you are not the person to confide in. They will not bring important information to you in the future.
Do not overfunction. Overfunctioning occurs when you take over and do the speaking for your child. Your job is to teach your children to speak up for themselves.
Do become an advocate for your child if necessary. If your youngster does speak up for himself and an adult tells him not to worry about it or to stop tattling, it is time for you to intervene. Make it very clear to the adult that your child is learning how to speak up and you expect his voice to be taken seriously.
Do put these suggestions into practice in your family. With more young people speaking up for themselves, we can reduce the incidence of bullying, violence, taunting, and other dangerous acts. Our children are worth it.
Chick Moorman and Thomas Haller are the authors of Parent Talk Essentials. They are two of the world's foremost authorities on raising responsible, caring, confident children. They publish a free Uncommon Parenting blog. To obtain more information about how they can help you or your group meet your parenting needs, visit their website today: www.uncommon-parenting.com