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.
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.
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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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