So, you’ve been cooped up in the house with your kids for over a year now. They finally went back to school, but guess what? It’s summertime and…” School’s out for summer…” Usually you look forward to this lazy time with your children. There are no responsibilities, no deadlines, no school projects, no morning alarms, and I am sure you are still excited about that part of summer. No more zoom and no more schoolwork battles, because it is summer!
This summer may be a little different than summers of the past, though. The novelty of not having to go to school every morning has worn off for the kids. They may actually wish they could go to school so they can see all of their friends, a phenomenon that usually doesn’t show up until the dog days of summer. Of course, they don’t come up to you and say, “I really miss going to school. I wish I could go back.” No. It comes out in other ways. They start fighting with their siblings, and once they start fighting, the tattling begins. I don’t know about you, but as a parent the single most irritating thing my children could do was tattle.
Before I go any further, I suppose I should define the word “tattle.” According to www.freedictionary.com tattle means “to tell something secret or private about another, often out of spite.” As a fifth-grade teacher I could have spent at least five minutes every day explaining the difference between “tattling” and “informing on a real problem.” A typical mantra would begin with “Tattling is to get someone in trouble. Informing is to get someone out of trouble.” i.e. someone is going to get hurt, someone is hurt, destruction is occurring, chaos has ensued and the complainer is in fear for someone’s life. After going through my mantra daily for years and not understanding why the kids just didn’t seem to understand the definitions, I changed my strategy. I created a complaint report.
The complaint form cannot undo the tattling phenomenon on its own. You also need a kindness report! Ask your kids to fill out a kindness report every time they see their sibling do something kind or hear them say something kind. Explain that they may NOT fill out kindness reports on themselves. Trust me. They usually try to do that first time around. There should definitely be stickers available for the kindness award. Let the “witness” do the adorning!
The two forms I am showing you here are just examples. You are welcome to use them, but they may not be suitable for your child. If your child is younger, you may want to have them draw a picture of what happened instead of writing it down. Whatever forms you choose to use, be sure you have them created (and LOTS of them) before you even start this endeavor. You can print them on your computer or design them yourself on paper and take them somewhere to be copied or if you really want to get fancy you can design them, take a picture of them and for the cost of postage, (about $9) you can have one hundred a month made and delivered to you from the FreePrints app.
Next you need to find a central place in the house where you can set up the forms with pencils, stickers, colored pencils, crayons, and markers. You will also need a locked box with a slot that your child can insert their form when done.
Now here come the rules.
Rule 1: Explain the difference between “tattling” hereinafter referred to as “complaining” and “informing on a real problem.”
Rule 2: Be patient for a little while as they continue to come to you with “complaints” but NEVER act on them and ALWAYS refer them to the “complaint forms.”
Rule 3: Check the box every night after the kids go to sleep to make sure no really important “real problems” made their way into the box.
Rule 4: Set up a family meeting time for at least once a week where everyone sits down and goes through the box.
Rule 5: Before going through the complaints and kindness reports, ask if anyone has any second thoughts about their complaints. Allow them to tell you which complaint(s) they would like removed and make a big deal of destroying them. Kindness reports may NOT be removed!
Rule 6: Go through each form thoughtfully and discuss as a family. When things seem to be getting a little heated, pull out a kindness form to lighten the mood. Be sure you have thrown a few kindness reports into the box yourself to act as examples and to let them know you notice when they do something nice.
Rule 7: As a family, come up with a reward plan. Each kindness form should be worth a positive number of points with the complaint forms being worth the exact number of negative points. It can be an individual award for the kid who gets the most points or it can be a point system for the family. Perhaps the family can be working toward a day at the park, or a trip to the ice cream store, or the movies. Together, create a chart determining how many points everything is worth.
I prefer the cumulative award system best and here’s why. Kids are wily. They know how to game a system. It may take a little while, but eventually they will figure out how to rig this system. When my own kids were little and I used this system, the first thing they noticed was how much more work went into filling out a complaint form. After a few meetings where points were tallied for kindness reports and points were subtracted for complaint reports, I noticed a change in behavior. They no longer came to me with “complaints.” I saw a sudden increase in kindness reports and the complaint reports fell to the wayside. Were there no more problems? Were they showing nothing but kindness? I highly doubt it. But my children were suddenly on the same side. They were forming a bond.
In my opinion, the most important part of this whole endeavor is to raise siblings who love and respect each other. We all have friends throughout our lifetime, but when it comes right down to it, the real constants in your life are your siblings. They are there while you are growing up and if you are lucky they are with you until the end. I have five brothers and I love them dearly. I remember the scheming we did and the sticking up for each other we did way more than I remember running to my parents to tattle on one of them.
If you decide to create a kindness/complaint center in your house, please send me an email at American.Janice@gmail.com. I would love to know if it worked and I would love to see pictures of your forms and family form center! Good luck and here’s to a tattle-free summer!
Janice Abernethy is a wife, mother, grandmother, daughter, sister, and retired school teacher. She has a bachelor’s in Elementary and Special Education and a master’s in Instructional Media. You can learn more about Janice by going to JAbernethy.com
This article was published in American Essence magazine.