Empowering students through communication

08/23/2010  |  BRENDA POAGE
empowering students

Nobody has to tell me that bullying is real. I’ve lived it. From the time I started school in a small town in Texas, I was mercilessly teased, harassed, and called hurtful names. It was out of those experiences that I wrote Ima Nobody Becomes a Somebody. One reality about my situation kept me paralyzed — helpless to do anything about the constant bullying I received. And I wonder if the same may be true of some of the students in your classroom.

The reality? I had no one — no one — to talk to. After all, to a kid there’s only one thing worse than being bullied, and that’s being labeled a snitch... narc ... a tattletale. And it was the adults in my life — parents and teachers — who reinforced the idea. You tattle ... you’re in just as much trouble as the perp.

I wonder if in the process of teaching children not to rat out their friends (or enemies!) or tattle about every offense and offender, we have inadvertently opened the door to all sorts of bullying. Surely there’s a better way.

Tattle Talk — What it Is and Isn’t

We make a distinction between being a tattletale and tattle talking. Children tattle for the express purpose of exposing someone and getting them in trouble. This is the behavior that is frowned upon and can turn victims into outcasts by both their peers and sometimes even adults. Nobody (including me) likes a tattletale. But Tattle Talk is different. Starting with our own children, we set about to open a bridge of communication between children and adults. Tattle Talk involves building a lasting, trusting relationship. Tattle Talk teaches kids how to talk to adults, first by teaching adults how to listen.

Tattle Talk in Action

Emily is normally a bright, active eight-year-old student who is eager to participate in schoolwork. But for two days she has been withdrawn and appears troubled. While any number of causes could be behind the change in her behavior, if Emily knows she has a safe place to talk about her feelings and what is behind them, maybe that kind of trust can resolve a difficult situation. This doesn’t happen automatically, and there are no guarantees that it is happening at home. Emily’s situation, duplicated in millions of ways in schools and homes across America, calls for a partnership between parents, teachers and other trusted adults. In an ideal setting, Emily can have an opportunity to identify and communicate her feelings (fear, sadness, etc.) and the causes behind them to an adult she trusts. Often that’s all she needs – a chance to find love, support, and understanding. At other times, she may need some guidance. And in more serious situations, she may need adult intervention.

Ideally, parents start teaching children to communicate their feelings at an early age. However, I don’t think it’s ever too late to initiate a trust relationship with a child. And as children progress, new age and developmental dynamics call for new levels of understanding and communication.

The simplest belief that forms such a foundation is for the child to believe it’s OK to come to parents, teachers, or trusted adults to discuss their problems and feelings. We may assume they understand that, but often our assumptions are misplaced. Adults who seem uninterested, unwilling to be interrupted, or irritated by child-sized problems may find the kids in their world trying to cope on their own.   Children are not looking for a best friend in an adult. They look to adults for guidance, safety, and love and understanding. When we show our children or students that their needs can come before our agenda, they will share those needs with us. And when we show them we trust them, they in turn will trust us.

Listening So Kids Will Talk

At Tattle Talk, we emphasize the importance of what we call “The Three-S System”:

Silently sit,

Silently listen,

Slow to speak.

Children need to know that you care enough to sit with them, and listen to their problems or concerns without being interrupted. Active and alert listening techniques can encourage reluctant or hesitant children to continue sharing until they’ve said all they need to say. They can also help you “hear” more than the words. Observe body language and other nonverbal communication. Otherwise, avoid speaking until you know that the child is finished venting.

We also stress the importance of LAFing with the child:

  • Listen to the child and their needs.
  • Advise your child on the best way to handle the situation.
  • Follow up with your child the next day.

Teach kids that it’s healthy to talk about the issues that bother them, and that we love and accept them, no matter what.

Why Tattle Talk Matters

If it’s true that with one issue alone — bullying — as many as 50 percent of school-aged children report being victims on some level, there is a desperate need for Tattle Talk. Adults and children need to know how to communicate with each other. Children need to know when Tattle Talk is necessary, why it is so important, and how to do it. Adults need to learn how to listen to children, and why it is so important to make Tattle Talk a daily part of a happier, healthier lifestyle with their child.

Tattle talk need not be seen as an interruption to an educator’s agenda. By opening doors of communication, honing the verbal and listening skills for both children and adults, and offering life skills to all involved (including the bullies!), you have the opportunity to develop a new generation of lifelong learners. And that is the kind of relationship worth investing your time in.

Brenda Poage is the Co-Founder of Tattle Talk, a non-profit organization and the author of Ima Nobody Becomes Somebody, the series.
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