Does your child tell on other kids for every little thing? Learn how to stop tattling with these tips and telling on others 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,” he’d report about his brother. Or we’d be sitting at the dining table and he’d point out, “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 being 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 this behavior was normal, but I also didn’t want it to escalate or disrupt his social interactions with his brothers or peers.
At the same time, I also didn’t want him to feel like he can’t tell grownups anything, from how he feels to genuinely dangerous activities his siblings might be doing.
How to stop tattling
Tattle telling can cross a fine line.
You want to stop your child’s habit of telling on others’ every misdeed while acknowledging the intent and sense of fairness he may feel. He should also feel like he can tell you anything, while not resorting to “gossip” as a way to gain leverage on others or favor in your eyes.
So, how can you stop tattling without undervaluing his feelings or sending the wrong message? I did a bit of research on tattle telling and came up with a variety of ways that did the trick:
1. Acknowledge your child’s feelings
Kids tattle for many reasons. For instance, they feel a sense of injustice for following rules when other “rule breakers” flaunt them. Other times, they highlight their siblings’ misdeeds to compensate for their own.
They might even feel like tattling is the right thing, especially when we encourage them to share any concerns they may have.
Which is why, before you address the downsides of tattling, your first reaction should be to acknowledge your child’s feelings and intentions. This will help her feel heard and understood, as well as make her aware of reasons she might be tattling.
You could say, “You seem upset because you’re trying to do the right thing and your brother keeps jumping on the couch.”
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2. Avoid giving attention to the tattler
When you hear your child telling you things others shouldn’t be doing, it’s tempting to jump in and start scolding the “perpetrators.” You might tell his sibling to share or stop making a mess. And other times you 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 tattletale a sense of false importance. It rewards his tattling by making him feel like the hero. He might even feel 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 the one who’d told for tattling on trivial issues or herald him as the hero. Instead, address his own tattle telling habits as well.
3. Explain the downsides of tattling
After you acknowledge your child’s feelings, explain why tattle telling isn’t always a good 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 another must be feeling.
Another downside is that others might not want to play with her as much for fear that they’ll keep getting tattled on.
And you can even show how tattle telling 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?”
4. Encourage critical thinking
Hearing your response to tattling can be confusing to your child, don’t you think?
Sometimes they’re legitimate concerns that cause you to rush to the scene right away. Other times, you wave her away, incredulous that she’d even bother to tell you something so petty. You can imagine the mixed messages this can send.
So, when she comes up to you to report on yet another misdeed her sibling did, you can help hone her critical thinking skills instead.
After all, you still want her to be able to tell you serious incidents she should be telling you. How can you encourage critical thinking skills and teach good strategies that allow her to discern which is which?
For one thing, ask questions to assess the situation and ensure physical safety, like “Is someone hurt?”
Or let’s say the misdeed has small consequences, like a sibling had put a toy where it doesn’t usually belong. You can ask, “What do you think will happen if your brother does that?”
Then, cap it off by asking, “Do you think you needed to tell me that?” This teaches her to use sound judgment instead of telling you every little thing her siblings are doing.
You can also practice giving hypothetical situations and ask whether each would warrant telling you or not. Not sharing a stuffed animal might not be a reason to come up to you, but her brother jumping off of the stairs would be.
Get more tips about encouraging critical thinking skills.
5. Promote confidence in solving the problem
To help your child avoid feeling like she needs to report on her siblings, urge her to solve the problem on her own. The more competent she feels handling the situation, the less inclined she’ll be to loop you in each time.
So, encourage her to put her problem-solving skills to use and handle the situation herself. For instance, 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 for minor events, you can say, “That sounds like something you can solve!”
6. Praise positive behavior
To shift the focus less on the perpetrator and more on your child, focus instead on what he can do. While you don’t want to praise tattling, you can always praise and encourage the good behavior you see him doing.
If he tattles on his siblings, you can say, “I know it’s tough when you see your sisters behaving that way. But I love how you know to put things back where they belong instead of making a mess. I’m happy you’re helping me keep our home clean!”
Explain that we can’t always change other people, and tattle telling on them is rarely the right decision. Instead, he can focus on himself—that the most important thing he can do is to keep behaving well.
Read these children’s books about positive behavior.
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You can address daily tattling without sending mixed messages.
Start by addressing your child’s emotions and intentions, and not only on the other child’s challenging behaviors. Encourage critical thinking skills and the confidence to solve many of these problems herself. Explain the downsides of tattling, and that she should focus on the good behavior she’s doing instead.
These steps can help curb tattling in her behavior—no more hearing a list of her siblings’ misdeeds first thing in the morning.
Get more tips:
- Conflict Resolution for Children
- How to Teach Toddlers 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
And check out A Bad Case of Tattle Tongue by Julia Cook and Anita DuFalla to read with your child:
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Thank you Nina for the tips about tattling. This is very helpful to me. But I have a question because this situation happens all the time whenever we are in my friend’s house. Their kids love to tattle every very2x little thing that my son does. It was alright at first but it came to the point that it was already very annoying. What should I do? I’m picturing myself doing the tips you posted but I am also skeptical because I also don’t want to make the parents feel bad or insulted that I am teaching their child since the parents and us have different culture and tradition. Thanks ahead Nina for your response.
Nina Garcia says
Thanks so much for your question. It’s definitely a challenge, not only dealing with tattling, but with your friend’s child, too! You’re right that you shouldn’t apply the same tips to her children since they’re not yours. It’s not your place, and your friend might feel weird about it. And while generally I’m all about letting the kids handle it themselves, certain times call for parental support.
Since you can’t discipline or enforce your own rules on their kids, explain your own expectations instead. For instance, let’s say one of them tattles on your child. You could say, “Oh, did anyone get hurt?” then “Did he break something?” (basically questions to see if the behavior really was serious enough). If not, then you could say, “Oh okay. I usually have [my child] handle it himself if no one got hurt or it’s something small like that.”
If it’s getting out of hand, you might tell the kids, “It looks like playing together isn’t working out too well right now. Would you two prefer to play separately for a little bit?” And you could always empathize with your friend’s child about how it must feel to follow the rules and see someone else flaunt them.
Just a quick note though, as with anything with social interactions between kids, try to guide them through their conflict rather than solve it for them. You could say things you see, such as empathizing with what each must feel, or taking a guess at why each did what he did. But generally you don’t want to fix the problem and instead allow them the opportunity to practice these social skills themselves.
Then, try to keep the conversation light and playful and tread carefully. But at the same time, you’re laying out your own expectations and rules for your own child without disciplining the other.
If it gets really bad and you feel comfortable doing so, I would address the parents instead of the child. Let your friend know that the tattling seems to disrupt their play time, or again, you could playfully mention it to your friend and see what she says. But I wouldn’t try to discipline her child directly other than through casual comments and guiding them through the insignificance of their tattling.
I hope that helps Kristine! Let us know how it goes!
Thank you so much for this article. As a mom with a son who just loves to play, I am finding that he gets “tattled on” almost on a consistent basis by other children (petty stuff) (“He’s not the boss of me” “He said he’s not leaving” etc. I am tired and frustrated because I can’t control other people’s children at the playground and I can’t keep leaving every single time my son does something they don’t like. I feel like the adult world is turning into these grown up tattle tales having flashbacks from childhood. Only now it involves calling the police for every little thing. Instead of talking to each other as adults we are calling the police and reporting our neighbors!!!! This is a serious problem and we are not “growing out of it” we are growing INTO it, and it needs to be addressed. AGAIN thank you for taking this seriously, as I am seriously at my wit’s end.
Nina Garcia says
I totally get it, Katrina <3 It can be hard when kids tattle about every little thing. Hopefully he learns to cope when that happens to him.
Leanne Strong says
Hi, while I feel that we should not honor every single complaint that a child has about another person (regardless of whether they are a child, teen, or an adult), I also feel that we should not teach children that tattling is wrong. Instead of telling a child things like, “you’re not supposed to tattle,” we can ask them questions like these.
“Are you telling me about this because you want to keep yourself safe?”
“Are you telling me about this because you want to keep someone else safe?”
“Are you trying to keep somebody out of trouble, or get somebody in trouble?”
“How many times have you tried solving the problem yourself?”
“Has anything you have tried worked?”
“Is there another way to handle it?”
Nina Garcia says
I love those question prompts, Leanne! So important to honor their intent, which also makes them question why they’re telling us these things in the first place.