Does your child tell on other kids for every little thing? Learn how to stop tattling in your child once and for all.
It was starting to get predictable. I’d leave the twins to cook in the kitchen when one of them would follow after a few minutes. “He was jumping on the couch,” my three-year-old would report about his brother. Or we’d be sitting at the dining table and he’d say, “He’s playing with his water cup.”
Sometimes he’d even start the day with yet another report before saying hello: “He was talking instead of staying quiet in bed.”
The tattling was getting out of hand.
Of my three kids, he took to tattling enough for me to notice. I knew tattling was normal, but I also didn’t want it to escalate or even disrupt his social interactions not just with his brothers but with his peers as well.
How to stop tattling
Tattling is a delicate issue. You want to stop your child’s habit of telling on others’ every misdeed while acknowledging the intent and even sense of fairness she may feel. I did a bit of research on tattling and came up with a few fantastic ways that seemed to do the trick:
Avoid giving attention
When we hear our kids telling us things others shouldn’t be doing, it’s tempting to jump in and start scolding the “perpetrators.” We might tell the other child to share or stop making a mess. And other times we do need to step in, especially if they’re hurting others or about to break things.
But that focuses too much on the other child and gives the tattler a sense of false importance. It rewards her tattling by making her feel like the hero. Plus, she feels shielded from discipline since someone else is behaving inappropriately.
Address the other child as needed, especially if he is doing something he shouldn’t. But don’t reward your other child for telling you or herald her as the hero. You’ll want to address her own tattling habits as well.
Acknowledge what you child must be feeling
Kids tattle for many reasons. They might feel a sense of injustice for following rules when others flaunt them. Other times, they highlight their siblings’ misdeeds to compensate for their own. They might even feel like they’re doing the right thing, especially when we make ourselves available to listen to any concerns they may have.
Before we even address the downsides of tattling, we need to acknowledge what the tattler is feeling. You might say, “I can see you feel upset because you’re trying to do the right thing and your brother keeps jumping on the couch.” Often, kids tattle because it feels unjust to see others flaunt the rules while they follow them.
Explain the downsides of tattling
Acknowledge her feelings about what her siblings have done, then explain why tattling isn’t always the best solution.
First, ask her what she thinks her siblings feel when they hear her tattle. This encourages empathy on her part and allows her to imagine what the other side must be feeling. Then, explain that if other kids keep feeling that way, they might not want to play with her as much for fear that they’ll keep getting tattled on.
And you might even show how tattling can ruin a fun play time. You might ask, “It looks like you guys were having fun playing trains. Do you think you could’ve kept having fun even if your brother dumped all the tracks on the floor?”
Encourage critical thinking
Hearing a parent’s response to tattling can be confusing. Sometimes we take them seriously and rush to the room to stop their brothers from coloring on the walls. Other times, we wave the tattler away, incredulous that she’d even bother to tell us something so petty. You can imagine the mixed messages this can send.
So when a child comes up to us to report on yet another misdeed a sibling did, we can help hone her critical thinking skills instead. After all, we still want our kids to be able to tell us important things they should be telling us. How can we encourage the critical thinking skills that allows them to discern better?
You might ask your child questions to assess the situation, like “Is someone hurt?” Or let’s say the misdeed has small consequences like a sibling putting a toy where it doesn’t usually belong. You might ask, “What do you think will happen if your brother does that?”
Then cap it off by saying, “You didn’t need to tell me that.” This teaches her to practice using sound judgment instead of telling you every little thing her siblings are doing.
You can also give hypothetical situations and ask your child whether each would warrant telling you or not. Not sharing a stuffed animal wouldn’t be a good reason to come up to you, but her brother climbing the bookcase would be.
Promote confidence to solve the problem on her own
To help kids not feel like they need to report on their siblings, we can encourage them to solve the problem on their own. The more competent she feels to handle the situation, the less she’ll feel inclined to loop you in each time.
So encourage your child to handle herself. Give a few suggestions of what she can say to her brothers to get them to stop. Ask for suggestions on what she can do. And especially for minor events, you can say, “That sounds like something you can solve!”
Praise positive behavior
To shift the focus less on the perpetrator and more on your child, focus instead on what she can do. While we don’t praise tattling, we can always praise and encourage the good behavior we see them doing.
If your child tattles on her sibling, you can say, “I know it’s tough when you see your brothers behaving that way. But I love how you know to put things back where they belong instead of making a mess. I’m really happy you’re helping me keep our home clean!”
Explain that we can’t always change other people, and tattling on them is rarely the right decision. So instead she can focus on herself. The most important thing she can do is to keep behaving well.
I’m happy to report I don’t hear my daily dose of tattling as much. I’ve learned to address the tattler’s emotions and intentions and not just on the other child’s misbehavior. I try to encourage critical thinking skills and the confidence to solve many of those problems himself. I also explain the downsides of tattling, and that it’s more important that he focus on himself and the good behavior he’s doing.
Thankfully it seems to work—I no longer hear a list of his brothers’ misdeeds first thing in the morning.
Get more tips:
- How to Stop Siblings from Fighting and Teach Conflict Resolution Instead
- 7 Ways to Teach Your Kids to Share
- 23 Children’s Books about Being a Good Friend
- 9 Playground Rules You and Your Kids Should Remember
- Unique Ways to Encourage Siblings to Get Along
Tell me in the comments: What are your biggest struggles with tattling?
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