Say “Tootles” to Tattling
If your house is anything like mine, you have children who spend their days tattling on their siblings and you spend your day refereeing the arguments.
When we acknowledge the tattling the accusing child gets two bonuses:
First: They reported a negative behavior and “saved the day”
Second: They feel like they have moved up in the ranks of rivalry because their brother or sister will surely move down after being caught red handed.
Here’s a typical tattling scenario:
- The children are playing a game nicely.
- All is good in the home… Mom and Dad are smiling… Ahhh!
- The parent gives no attention to the children because they think: “Why mess with a good thing?”
- Suddenly the climate of the play changes…
- Something is unfair and the dice get thrown across the game table.
- A child yells, “I quit. Mom and Dad, Josh cheated!” …
- Momand Dad are forced to pay attention.
- Mom and Dad have to weed through the sequence of the showdown.
- Mom and Dad have to figure out the consequences of the actions.
- Mom and Dad have a headache.
What if the scenario went a different way:
- Mom walks by the table where her children are playing nicely, and makes a specific comment about something positive she sees them doing. “I noticed that you let your brother go first.”
- Mom reinforces that they should try to “work out” their differences as arguments come up and make it fair so everyone can continue the game. “What is your plan if someone thinks something is unfair?”
- Mom mentions she wants each brother or sister to catch their siblings doing something good during the game and report back to her when they are finished.
- The children’s focus will turn from personal gain to group gain. They will be able to report how well the game went, how well they worked together to solve problems and Mom no longer has to be the referee.
- They will work through problems as they come up and focus on the positives instead of the negatives. All the while they will be noticing their siblings strengths.
This is called positive peer reinforcement, and it is something that teachers are trying to do more and more within their class settings. Some people call this tootling because it causes children to focus on the positive instead of negative behaviors replacing tattling with “tooting some else’s horn” .(Skinner et al. 2000) You can try this in the home setting too.
Here are some steps to make it a success:
- Mom and Dad specifically call out positive behavior when they see it and clearly state the positive behavior they would like to see.
- Children focus on catching each other making the good choices that match Mom and Dad’s plan
- Children report the good choices that others made (instead of tattling on the “bad choices”)
- Positive Behavior increases as children work to get the positive attention of their siblings and parents
- Shift happens from personal gain to group gain
- Children team up to be good
- Mom and Dad cease being the referees
- Everyone is a little more positive and peaceful
As parents, you might want to tally up the “tootles” at the end of the day and acknowledge the positive choices made. You could even have your children work towards achieving a certain number of tootles for a family surprise.
Studies show that the rate of positive behaviors go up when positive behaviors are emphasized, recognized and acknowleged, and likewise, negative behaviors increase when we continue to recognize, emphasize and acknowledge them. So focus on the positive to get a peaceful home.
Toot your child’s horn today!
Skinner, C. H., Cashwell, T. H., & Skinner, A. L. (2000). Increasing tootling: The effects of a peermonitored interdependent group contingencies program on students’ reports of peers’ prosocial behaviors. Psychology in the Schools, 37, 263–270.