One of the most-used skills I have taken with me into motherhood is the phrase, “Give him a message.” That tattling stuff is a dirty business. I think it might annoy me more than most other child-related woes. And I learned something while teaching in a kindergarten classroom that totally changed the way I respond to tattletales. Let’s use a common scene in my house for example.
Let's say my oldest (4.5 yrs) and my middle (3 yrs) are playing get-the-bad-guy happily together in the basement. Someone accidentally hits too hard, and tears and anger arise. I hear stomping up the stairs, and the wounded bursts through the door. “Moooooooooooooooooooooooooooooom. He hit me!”
“Did you give him a message?” I respond calmly.
“No.” he angrily quips.
Continuing to wash the dishes, I calmly reply, “Well then, go give him a message. If he hits you again, then you can come get me. Give your brother the opportunity to make a better choice.” And back down he goes.
My children know that the message they are delivering is, “Please don’t hit me.” Or, if you're feeling too angry to say it that politely, a firm "Don't hit me. I don't like that." works, too!
It’s brilliant, you guys. 1)They are learning to settle disagreements at the lowest possible level. They are figuring out how to calmly and verbally communicate to the person who made them upset that they are upset. Don’t punch them. Don’t wait for someone else to solve your problems for you. Use your words and cause a change.
2)They are learning that THEY determine how others will treat them. I think this is so important! I want my children to be able to tell a friend, a peer, OR a harmful adult that they don’t like the way they are being treated. And to be practiced in the verbiage that message uses. And also, to expect that person to stop!
3)They learn that when someone says, “Stop. I don’t like how you’re treating me.” THEY LISTEN. In our house, if you repeat the unwanted behavior that someone just asked you to stop doing, you are in big trouble. This is for the future girls they will date, this is for the friend who doesn’t like how they are playing, and this is for them. Because they need to expect people to stop once they have clearly established the way they will be treated. They need to be alarmed if that person doesn't stop.
4)They learn that in our house, we give second chances and take opportunities to make better decisions. I think that’s kind of a beautiful thing.
And it’s not terrible that another side effect is that 5)they come to me less! I don’t get many tattles these days. They know I won’t do anything until they have given their brother or friend a message. And you’d be surprised how many potential conflicts become nothing once a message has been given. Pity to the child who doesn’t respect the message.
Four words, and such an impact they make! You know, I’m still waiting to find a practical application for my skills in chord analysis, but this “Give him a message” business has proven to be gold.
What have you found to be one of your go-to tools in your parent tool belt? I’d love to know.