Dear Parent Coach:
My 8 year old son’s teacher told me that he is constantly running to her and tattling on other children’s behaviors. Now that I think of it, he does tattle quite a bit on his younger sister. Is this so unusual and should I be concerned enough to do something about it?
Dear Jimmy’s Mom:
Tattling, also called “telling on” is commonplace for many elementary school-aged children. For parents, it can be a real annoyance. Why are kids so eager to “spill the beans” about other kids, especially their own siblings?
The reasons children tattle seem to be very basic. For many, it is a bid for attention. Children hope that the information they provide may somehow prove “useful,” and that they will be justly rewarded. Other times, the child is looking to get someone in trouble so that they can find the feeling of superiority in saying, “I told you so.”
It is truly difficult to teach kids to distinguish “tattling” from informing someone about a potential or actual danger. Some parents instruct their children to tattle only when someone is being hurt physically. But, what about someone’s being hurt psychologically?
Children are taught not to tattle and to resolve their problems themselves. In the case of a child being bullied, there is a power imbalance and adult intervention is needed to stop this behavior.
Dealing with tattletales can be tricky. Usually, the tattletale is aware of the routines and rules to be followed and tells on someone who isn’t following them. Listen to the tattletale and then encourage him to find a solution to the problem.
Have a one on one talk with the tattletale is usually successful. Try to establish the gain he experiences behind the tattling. If the child tattles because it gives him a perceived sense of power, you might try offering him a small leadership role in something. Focus on his strengths and determine how he can utilize them in some way that satisfied his need for control and leadership.
Try role-playing different scenarios with your child to teach her the hurtful consequences of tattling. Kids need to be part of the solution and the consequences. Identify and discuss ways to resolve things without tattling.
Avoid lectures – kids tune these out. Don’t issue quick, irrational decisions such as “If you tattle again, you’ll be grounded for a year.” You know that simply will not happen.
Tattling’s natural consequences will be your child’s loss of friends. Eventually, your child will see the correlation between tattling and having no friends. Help your child learn about good and bad judgment calls and to know the difference between the two. It takes a long time for a child to become a master of tattling, so be patient and consistent. Change will take some time.
Landa is a licensed marriage and family therapist who operates an in-home consulting service. She can be reached at (858) 705-3774 or at firstname.lastname@example.org