How to Deal with Tattling in Preschool

I’m very excited to take part in the Summer Book Study alongside Pre-K Pages, PreKinders, Teach Preschool, and Kathy Griffin’s Teaching Strategies.  Rather than just one book, we’ll be focusing on one topic — challenging behaviors in the classroom.  I’ll be focusing on tattling in preschool today.  It seems to pop up in almost every conversation I have with other teachers about classroom management.


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Books to help with challenging behaviors in the classroom

When I completed my teaching credential program, my adviser handed me a copy of Jane Nelsen’s book Positive Discipline.  Over the years, I’ve referenced it many times, taking from it information that would help my teaching.  There are now so many off-shoots of this book for different age groups, for parents, for caregivers, and for teachers.  I specifically referenced Positive Discipline: A Teacher’s A-Z Guide for today’s topic.

Reference books for dealing with tattling in preschool - Fun-A-Day!

Why kids tattle

In my experience, young children tattle for the following reasons:

  • They aren’t sure how to deal with a problem on their own.
  • They want to get their peers “in trouble” with the teacher.
  • They’re strict rule followers and want reassurance that what they’re doing is right.

Nelsen makes a great point that teachers and parents may be encouraging tattling, too!  Jumping right in and solving kids’ disputes doesn’t give children the chance to problem solve on their own.  Saying, “don’t tattle” doesn’t give the children detailed information about how to resolve the problems.

Teaching conflict resolution can help prevent tattling in preschool ~ Fun-A-Day!

How to stop tattling

I’ll admit it, my first reaction to an overabundance of tattling is often frustration!  I think that frustration stems from the constant interruptions, as well as the concern that I’ve made my students too reliant on me.  As with most things in the classroom, this can be solved through teaching and re-teaching!  Taking a step away from my initial reaction and focusing on the children’s needs is an important first step.  A few more ideas:

Assess the situation.
Ensure that no one has been hurt (if so, it’s not really a case of tattling).  Consider what might have led to the tattling – both the circumstances and the tattling child’s intent.

Listen to the child’s concerns. Even if he has a tendency to tattle, his thoughts and feelings are still important. It helps nurture the teacher-student relationship when he knows you’ll listen to him.  Listening will also help determine why the student is tattling.

Ask questions.
Ask questions! “How can you solve that problem?” is a favorite of mine, usually followed by, “Do you think it would help if you (insert a suggestion for solving the problem)?”  Other questions might include:

  • “How do you want me to help you?”
  • “Have you spoken with your friend about this?”
  • “What should you do next?”
  • Nelsen suggests asking, “How is that a problem for you?” to remind children they should be concerned about their own choices (if they’re tattling about someone else’s problem).

Questions allow children to be walked through solving their problems.  Questions also allow students to creatively problem solve in a safe environment.

Discuss tattling vs. sharing information
This can be a hard distinction for young children to understand.  Explain it simply and give them examples.  To me, tattling is focused on getting someone else in trouble.  Sharing information is focused on helping others.  There are so many “reporting versus tattling” charts out and about, so perhaps make one for the classroom.  Nelsen encourages brainstorming with students on this topic – so letting the kids help create a class chart would be a good end to a discussion about tattling.

Teach problem solving.
As with most classroom behavior concerns, it’s incredibly important to teach the kiddos what to do.  When it comes to tattling, it’s paramount to teach children how to solve problems and work things out with their friends.  Giving them these skills will significantly lessen tattling problems in the classroom (especially when coupled with how the teacher responds to tattling).  Positive Discipline: A Teacher’s A-Z Guide suggests the idea of classroom meetings to deal with tattling.  They are a great way to touch on problem solving and conflict resolution!

Here are a few more ideas:

  • Teacher Modeling – Model what to think before approaching the teacher to tell on someone.  For example, I might say aloud to my students, “Wow!  I see there are 5 people in the nature center, but Ms. Mary Catherine said we can only have 3 people there!  I’m going to tell the teacher.  Oh wait, is it really my business?  Are they hurting anyone?  Maybe they just got too excited and forgot the rules.  I could go over and nicely remind my friends about the rules.  I could also leave them alone and let Ms. Mary Catherine take care of it.”  I also find injecting some humor into these think alouds really helps the children remember what I’ve modeled!
  • Role Playing – Get those students involved in the process and let them practice.  Have 2 kids come up and act out a scene.  As they do so, ask guiding questions and make suggestions as to how to handle a situation before tattling.  Most likely, the other children will help out, too!

Building a classroom community can help prevent tattling in preschool ~ Fun-A-Day!

How do you deal with tattling in the classroom?

Questions to consider
If tattling is a big concern in the classroom, I’d suggest taking a few moments to consider the following questions.  Afterwards, outline a plan to prevent tattling in your classroom.

  • When does the most tattling occur?
  • What are most of the tattles about?
  • Which children need the most help with not tattling?
  • Is my behavior adding to the problem?  If so, how can I change my responses to prevent these issues in the future?
  • When can I incorporate mini-lessons about problem solving?

Your thoughts
Now it’s your turn!  I’d love to hear how you are handling this concern in your classroom.  What patterns have you seen, and what changes will you  make for the next school year?

Summer Blog Book Study
If you’re interested in earning graduate credits for participating in this summers’ book study, please click here for more information.  Additionally, here’s a FAQ link if you have any questions about the graduate credits.

PreKinders has all of the summer book studies on one convenient page here.  This year’s books are located on that page, along with posts from each previous book study.

The next post in this series will be Wednesday, June 27th, over at PreKinders!


Every post from this year’s book study
As each post goes live, the authors will link them up below. This way you can reference all of the information in one spot! By the end of the summer, this will be an awesome resource when you’re facing challenging behaviors in the classroom.


  1. says

    Mary Catherine, thanks for those awesome tips! I know I add to the tattling problem in my room, because so often a child tells me something that I really do need to know, lol. But then it gets out of hand because I’ve listened to it. Class meetings are a great way to handle so many behaviors.
    Karen @ recently posted…Summer Book StudiesMy Profile

  2. Karen says

    Thank you for the tips. I teach the pre-kindergarten class, and every year, starting in March, the tattling becomes a tremendous distraction. Much of it is trying to get a classmate in trouble, which is frustrating. I love the suggested questions to ask the tattler, and further explaining the concept of tattling vs. sharing.

    • Pam says

      I agree with the tattling becoming worse in the springtime and being a nusiance. One student constantly told on another child to get him in trouble. We would ask the tattler,”Are you doing it?” ( running, too many in area, etc. )When the tattler replied no, we said, “Well, good for you, you know the rules.” This kept him quiet for awhile.

  3. says

    I really like how you have concrete solutions here. So many people say “I just like to let the children deal with it themselves” but that’s not teaching the kids important conflict resolution skills, either! It is important the we put the issue back on the kids to deal with, but then we have to step in and model how to do so. I’m constantly working on this with my three-year-old twins and it is giving me great practice for how I’ll deal with it in the classroom come fall! Interestingly, this is an issue I dealt with constantly when working with social skills groups in the public schools, even into high school, so these skills really do need to be taught!
    Stephanie @ Twodaloo recently posted…Rainbow Burst OobleckMy Profile

  4. says

    Thank you so much for hosting the book study with us and sharing this valuable information with your readers! I am big on asking questions too, it really gets kids thinking and supports independence. I also love your questions to ask yourself at the end- it’s so important to examine the “why” behind the tattling.
    Vanessa @Pre-K Pages recently posted…What’s in Your Science Center?My Profile

  5. Michelle Buresh says

    Thank you for some great ideas on how to deal with tattling. I really liked the questions I can ask the student who is tattling. I used to say “DO you want my help or do you just want me to listen to your concerns?” I really don’t think this response helps with pre-k students. So I stopped asking that question. But now i have a new set of questions that are going to help a child grow and become independent thinkers.

  6. says

    Tattling has been a challenge for me. I do Ned to know when things are happening sometimes…but not all the time. Walking that line can be tricky. Thanks for some great tips.

  7. Cindy says

    This is a topic that often needs revisiting in my classroom. The first question I ask is if everyone is okay. Then I ask what they have done to solve the problem. Of course to do that we have practiced and read about the differences between tattling and reporting. I love the idea of an anchor chart that we can come back and revisit. Thank you for some new questions, ideas, and tips to use with the children.

  8. TJ says

    we use kelso to teach conflict/problem solving . we discuss small problem vs big problems. kelso has 9 choices to handle problems,

    • Maggie says

      Can you tell what the 9 choices are? I also like the idea of identifying small problems verses big problems.

  9. Joy Lindgren says

    Thank you for the helpful information! How we approach behaviors in the classroom is often a topic that comes up at back-to-school night, as well as many times throughout the school year. I try to use many of your methods (i.e. teacher modeling, role playing, etc.). Also, it’s very helpful to read your feedback on tattling. I took note of your skills to use throughout my classroom. Thanks for the input!

  10. Kiernan says

    Thank you for post! It was eye opening, I heard my voice saying the same things! I will definitely try these tips next year in my class!

  11. Marissa says

    I have seen several of the reporting vs. tattling charts, and I always thought ‘That’s great, but how do I use them for 4 year olds?’ Something as simple as having the kids make one with you to help instill what you have been talking about it a great idea. Now, I can not only talk with the kids about tattling, role play, but let them show me what they have learned from it and make the chart. Then if tattling starts to flare up again I can easily listen to the child and reference the chart to help them problem solve and work through the tattling.

    • denise alexander says

      What is the chart you use for reporting vs. tattling. I am interested in the chart for my pre-k class.

  12. says

    Often I’ve found children really just need to get their thoughts out and most of the time giving information looks like tattling. Last year we incorporated Mr. Listening Bear. Mr. Listening Bear is a big stuff animal we sat on top of our peace table (used for problem solving), and anytime someone wanted to “just get it out” they were allowed to go whisper in Mr. Listening Bear’s ear. Boy oh boy was this helpful!!
    Shonda Mckinney-Alston recently posted…Using the environment as the “third” teacherMy Profile

  13. Karin says

    Thank you for all your suggestions! I will use the list of questions in my class this fall. I especially like have you spoken to your friend about this and how is this a concern for you to get them recentered on their own choices and not a classmates.

  14. Terry says

    I’ve come to understand that when our 4 year olds tell school stories at home their parents will respond with” did you tell the teacher?” So I believe some tattling is a result of the child thinking we as teachers need to know! I often am already aware and just thank the student and ask them if maybe they could help find out why things are happening….the get to be reporters of fact rather than fiction.

  15. says

    I just took over the pre-k classroom in my center, and tattling is a big deal. Working with threes until this point, I have already been big on working with social skills. One of the first things I teach the kids to do if someone does something that they don’t like is to tell them “I don’t like it!” So the first thing I say if they say someone hurt them somehow is, “Did you like it? Did you tell them?” If they are tattling about someone having a material out or something that they think someone else should not be doing, I say, “Are they hurting you in any way?” Responding to these situations in these ways has been very helpful in cutting down some of the tattling, but there is still a lot of it going on. I really appreciate the ideas given in this post.
    Sarah Riley recently posted…Broken RelationshipsMy Profile

  16. Sue says

    Tattling is always a big problem with my threes & can be very disruptive. Thank you for your tips. I usually ask “are they hurting you?”, but I will start using “how is this a problem for you?” That is a great question. I also like that you point out that young kids are looking for reassurance about the rules. It is good to keep this in mind.

  17. JocelYn says

    Thank you so much for the tips on handling tattling. We definitely had an issue with this last year. I look forward to trying some of these tips next year. I especially like the idea do teaching them the difference between tattling and sharing.

  18. Mabie says

    Great suggestions on tattling! This past year I had a problem with tattling and used similar questions such as “Is he/she hurting you?” I will be sure to use the questions and strategies suggested to prompt children to problem-solve on their own.

  19. Claudia says

    Thank you for the tips! I love the chart idea ….do you have a picture to share of that chart?

  20. andrea says

    Thank You so much for the wonderful tips on how to deal with tattling. I work with several different centers and several different age groups. I am looking forward to using your tips and sharing them with the teachers that I work with.
    Again thank you so much for sharing.

  21. Maggie says

    I have recently read a suggestion from the book How to Handle Hard to Handle Preschoolers (by Applebaum, I believe), and she suggested that before a child could report something negative about a student, they needed to say something nice or positive. What are your thoughts on this. At first, I thought it was a great idea, but after thinking about it, does that take value away from the concerns/bring the focus away from the conflict at hand?

  22. says

    Thanks for the great advice!

    In my first year of teaching preschool, tattling was a HUGE problem in my class. One of my friends told me about the “tattle turtle” a stuffed turtle that is used for the sole purpose of “tattling to”. I noticed that many of my students’ primary reason of tattling was simply to say what they needed to, and then they were over it. The turtle provided them a great way to “get their tattle out”

  23. says

    In my experience working with 3’s and 4’s, I tend to use the “let’s worry about what you are doing” suggestion to cut down on the tattling. I believe in a previous comment someone mentioned pointing out to the tattler that THEY are following the rules and making good choices. So acknowledging their doing the right thing could possibly take the attention away from the friend who is not. I always try to ask, “Well what are you doing? Did you do the right thing?” Then proceed with the positive reinforcement. I also like to suggest that they assist their friend with making the right choice. I would say, “What could you do to help them follow the rules?” Instead of tattling, I let them know it would be more helpful to guide their friend towards following the rules. Hopefully this will turn it from a negative experience into something positive and a way to resolve conflict.


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