One day your children are interacting peacefully, and the next thing you know, one of them turns into an informant. They’re dying to let you know that their brother ate a cookie before dinner or their sister was on the phone after bedtime. They might even start reporting on the neighbors if they’re letting their grass grow too high.
Tattling is unattractive, but it’s a natural part of growing up. It’s a sign that your child is starting to outgrow hitting and screaming, but they’re still unsure about how to resolve conflicts more maturely.
The issue becomes even more complicated when you’re trying to teach your child when to deal with situations on their own and when it’s important to tell an adult.
Try these tips for helping your child to tell the difference between tattling about small stuff and telling an adult about serious matters.
- Identify their reasons. You can determine if your child is tattling or telling you about something urgent by examining their motives. Let them know that you disapprove of trying to get someone into trouble, but you’re proud of them when they want to be helpful.
- Step back. While there are many things you can do to guide your children in a positive direction, you want to give them enough room to work situations out on their own. As long as everyone is safe, consider ignoring tattling rather than rewarding it by intervening.
- Provide validation. While you may disapprove of tattling, you can reassure your child that their views matter. Empathize when they describe being mistreated or seeing someone break the rules.
- Demonstrate tolerance. Living in a community sometimes requires concentrating on your own responsibilities and overlooking the choices of others. Talk with your child about how to handle injustices.
- Promote friendships. Your child may want to stop tattling if they know it will cost them friends. Explain why other children may avoid them if they tattle too much.
- Teach compassion. You can also help your child to understand how tattling affects others. Ask them how they feel when someone tells on them. Role play so they can act out being embarrassed or hurt by gossip.
- Build confidence. Some children tattle to get status and power. Explain how they can boost their self-esteem in more desirable ways like excelling at school or playing team sports.
- Remove temptation. You may be able to prevent tattling before it starts. Children who sleep and eat well are less likely to lash out.
- Explore alternatives. Talk with your child about what they can do instead of tattling. They might practice sharing instead of fighting over toys. They might focus on their own grades even if a classmate skips their assignments.
- Examine feelings. Small children may have trouble putting ideas into words, but they still have strong emotions. Ask your child to come to you if they experience anything that frightens or confuses them.
- Discuss distinctions. Talk about the difference between being unsafe and being annoying. Compare throwing rocks at someone to chewing with your mouth open.
- Spend time together. Your child is more likely to reach out when they’re in trouble if you work at staying close. As a bonus, they’ll also be less prone to tattling just to get your attention.
Raise your children to avoid tattling about minor issues, but ensure they know that it’s okay to reach out to an adult when they’re trying to help themselves or another child. Once you understand why your child is telling you about someone’s behavior, you can help them practice strategies that will support healthy social and emotional growth.