"I agree that there are definitely times I want my kids to tell me about what's been happening, and you mentioned that you make sure your foster kids know the difference between the two--how do you that? Sometimes it's really hard for ME to tell when it's reporting, and when it's tattling. Besides physically hurting one another, would you want your kids to report things like teasing, saying unkind things or rude words, not helping with a chore that everyone has been given to do together, or taking a toy from someone?"
To explain the difference between tattling and reporting I do a role playing session with the group about it when there hasn't been a tattling problem. I act like I am tattling and then I come and ask to report. Then we debrief the differences between the two.
If someone is tattling, they usually have a whiny voice tone and are telling something to get something from another person or to keep themselves from looking bad. It sounds like this; "Mom, Porter's not cleaning his room like you told him to." This is the overall tone.
If someone is reporting, they come to the parent and say, "I need to report something...I saw Billy taking rocks and throwing them at the neighbor's car. This seems like something that needs your attention." Or, "I need to report something. I was just walking by Porter's room and noticed that he isn't cleaning his room yet. He seems sad. I thought you might like to know."
If you teach them the difference between the two, and practice, they will know how recognize when something needs reporting about and when to stay out of someone elses business. For a while you might have to say, "Right now you are tattling. To report something important, ask yourself if this is something that mom needs to know to protect her child from harm, or if this is something that could take the spirit away from our home." This is our rule for reporting.
Then I would say, "If you have answered yes to one of these questions, then come to me and tell me you need to report something." Then I would show them how to report and have them practice.
It is also a good idea to tell them, "This is the kind of thing that you should report to me..." When you have been told something important. You will be surprised how knowing the language makes all the difference.
To answer the second part of your question, I would almost need to live at your house, but I will try to do my best here. Every family is so different.
Everyone teases differently. Some teasing is harmless, and other teasing takes the spirit from the home and ruins the environment that I have tried so hard to create. The second kind needs to be reported.
With the being rude, taking things away from other people, and not helping with group chores I would say it is good to report those things. But, if a report sounds like a tattle then it is not a report. If something is reported out of concern for someone or the family atmosphere then it is a report. If someone tells something just to make things seem fair or to look better than someone else, then it is a tattle and is doing just as much harm as the person making the first bad decission, because they are acting out against a family member.
Practice the tone of reporting. Teaching them to tell you they need to report something. Tell them what kinds of things need to be reported and what kinds of things would be considered tattling.
Lastly, it is so imortant to teach your children what to do if someone is talking rude or mean, or if someone takes something away. Teach them to be assertive in the situation. (See the blog on being assertive.) Then teach them when it is time to remove themselves from uncomfortable situations. These things would be good to practice as well.
We can't fight all of their battles for them. We need to give them the skills to fight some of these battles on their own. I still remember a time from my childhood when some of my friends were talking bad about someone else. I felt so uncomfortable knowing that they were being so mean. I knew that the only way for them to know they were making a wrong choice and to keep my friends was to walk away. I did and they recognized they had been wrong to be mean. Our children will have similar experiences. We need to simulate for them how to handle things when other people make bad choices.
Simulation is a great teacher. I use it in all of my teaching. Role play or simulate as many experiences as you can, so that your children are ready to govern their own behaviors during the actual situations.