“Why did those kids say mean things about me, Momma? They hurt my feelings when they told other kids I was mean to Elsa. I didn’t do anything to her.” His tears tug at your heart and make you want to say something stern to those kids and their parents. You can turn this into a teachable moment and help him learn not to start rumors or believe every story he hears about another.
If your child has never been on the receiving end of gossip, she might not know how hurtful rumors can be. Role-play a situation where one of her classmates might spread a rumor or where she could start one without meaning to do so. Say, “To say something mean or hurtful about another person is wrong. To spread a story about someone that makes them sad or hurts their feelings is wrong. It’s also wrong to say something about someone else that isn’t true. That’s known as spreading rumors or gossiping. We don’t do that in our family.” Alternatively, use puppets or tell her about someone who spread a rumor about you. Ask her how she would feel if she was in a similar situation.
In “Big Bad Rumor” by Jonathan Meres and Jacqueline East, a goose starts a rumor about a wolf that quickly becomes muddled and totally wrong. Your child can see how rumors get started and spread from person to person like a bad disease. Play “Gossip” with her and a group of friends to help the young children see how quickly a story can get out of hand, even when it starts out as the truth.
Watch in “Bambi,” where Thumper’s mom asks Thumper about saying hurtful things. Tell your little one, “'If you can’t something nice, don’t say nothing at all’ isn’t just Thumper’s Rule. Even if what you say is true, such as saying that Annie wears raggedy clothes or that Jimmy smells funny, it isn’t nice and shouldn’t be repeated.” Point out that hearing it from another child doesn’t make it okay to repeat. Model how to politely refuse to spread rumors or how to respond if someone spreads a rumor about her.
The Unknown Factor
When your child doesn’t have all the facts, it’s easy to make something up. Get a book and read several pages of the story to him and then stop and ask him what he thinks will happen next. He might guess correctly, or he might be completely off base. Explain, “In the story, you can find out what happens next by turning the page, but it isn’t always that easy to find the truth. You should make sure you know the truth before you tell someone something about another person. It’s better not to say anything unless you know for sure.” Help him explore ways to get the truth and resist the desire to make up what he thinks happened. Explain, “What happens to another is their story to tell, not yours. Make sure it's okay with that person before you tell their story.”