Dear Polly, One of my students, Thomas, perches like a hawk as he watches clusters of children play or work in my kindergarten. In fact, he seems to be eagerly waiting for an opportunity to pounce on somebody's slightest error. I've told him I don't approve of his tattletale behavior, but that hasn't helped. What should I do? -Discouraged in Delta junction

Dear Discouraged, Let's think about why a child would be motivated to tattle. Of course, I've never met Thomas, but when I try to picture him, watching and waiting, apart from the busy groups in your classroom, the first word that appears on the screen of my mind is alone. My advice is to first ask yourself:

Is Thomas Lonely?.

It certainly sounds as if Thomas is outside of the groups, all by himself. So one reason that he might keep running to you with tidbit after tidbit is to establish a little human connection. Try assuming that this is true and respond accordingly. Ask, in a friendly voice, "Thomas, do you want some company? Would you like to help me get these photos up (set out the juice, wash the paintbrushes)?" Don't even "hear" the tattling; don't acknowledge it. Just speak to this child's possible yearning for companionship.

What you can do:

If loneliness is Thomas's problem, how can you help him become part of the kid culture in your classroom?

Consider pairing him up with another child. Some teachers are quite skilled at matching children up for jobs; an art, music, movement, or cooking activity; as book-browsing partners; or in some other way. Pairing children each day, one way or another, can help one or both of them socially.

Think of a child who would accept Thomas as a teammate for a brief activity. Maybe a very shy child also needs a friend or a socially mature child who is tolerant of others.

Help him learn to recognize his feelings and how to enter a small group when he wants to join in.

Does Thomas Feel Inadequate?

We all know that one way some people make themselves feel okay is to look down on others. (Historically, this has been one of the many reasons for racism, classism, and the dominance of one gender over the other.) Perhaps when Thomas is reporting a fellow kindergartner's mistake or misdeed, for the moment, at least, he feels superior.

Operating on the assumption that Thomas needs to feel better about himself, you could help him engage in things he can succeed in and join him in crowing about his successes. Ask yourself, What small things can Thomas do well? Puzzles? Feed the fish? Put away the Legos? What can you help him learn to do well?

What you can do:

Include Thomas in some of your activities each day. Make time to chat with him.

Help Thomas learn how to join a few children who are playing together. Watch how your most socially gifted children do it.

Meet with Thomas's parents and share ideas on these two topics. Also find out if his parents see this behavior at home, and talk about it.

I suspect that Thomas will be less of a tattletale when he is included more socially and feels successful about it. His behavior will probably change, too, when he has developed some talents and skills, however small, that he can contribute to your kindergarten community and feel big about.