Q: I have three first-grade boys who spend most of their time focused on one another, rather than our lessons. It's non-stop wrestling and one-upmanship-a perpetual game of "King of the Hill." How can I focus their attention on the lesson rather than one another's antics?
A: These boys are coming into their own as macho guys. Part of that may be hormonal and part cultural. So I am convinced that you can't dissuade them from this behavior without knowing what makes it so rewarding to these particular children. For the time being, you'll have to block their access to it. Try dividing the class into groups, placing the candidates for "King of the Hill" into different groups. This plan works best if there are just two boys involved.
Although most classrooms have a "no toy weapons" rule, more than a few boys will duel with pencils or anything else they can find. Some, like these, can't resist any opportunity to be a macho hero. Popularity with members of their same sex is highly sought after, just as social rejection is avoided. So, if you are considering a plan that will bring these boys into the mainstream of the classroom, keep in mind how urgent it is for certain boys to feel and appear macho. You can provide them with some assignments that will fulfill that need. For example, the class may do a short play about a current event, history, or almost any subject that lends itself to drama. One of these boys can be assigned to a heroic, superman-type role. Think about some comparable assignments in various subjects. Portraying a demonstrable hero could go a long way toward quieting these boys down. I wish you good luck.
Q: I have a serious tattletale on my hands. The other children are starting to exclude her for her behavior. I know she has good intentions, but how can I guide her to be more concerned about her own actions?
A: Tattling often has complicated origins. For example, let's say a neighborhood boy was picking on your student last year. For a while, she didn't reveal that fact to her family or kindergarten teacher. Instead she became fearful about traveling to school, where only she knew that the boy would be waiting. It took persistent inquiry to finally get her to tell her story. The bully was reprimanded and watched from then on. His "victim" was urged to tell trusted grown-ups about any similar behavior. Perhaps she took that advice too much to heart, and began telling a newly trusted grown-up about any suspicious behavior on the part of any child. Fantasy could have blended with fact, as is so often the case with young children. It is up to you and the parents to show empathy but also clarify the facts. A memory of menacing behavior doesn't warrant accusing innocent classmates. Of course, this is only one possible reason for tattling. Get all of the involved adults together. As you work on building a child's trust in you, her own real story is likely to emerge.