In case you didn’t know, tattling should be illegal in your family. Many parents don’t realize that.
When parents come to me for help with their kids’ fighting, I always ask is if their kids are tattletales. Just about 100% of the time the answer is YES! And they don’t even flinch at the look of horror on my face!
The funny thing is, it’s parents who perpetuate the problem. Tattling is seen as necessary and useful. Believe me, it does more harm than help.
Tattling at school and tattling at home are different. Often at school, the child is checking out the rules, “Amanda took more than two crackers.” It can be Sarah’s prideful way of saying “I followed the rules.” Sometimes tattling is the child’s way of confirming the rule. “Jeremy is going outside without his shoes on.” is really asking, “Is it okay to go out today without shoes?” And sometimes it helps solve a problem that the student feels helpless to solve.
But at home among siblings, tattling plays a different role, and it’s seldom productive. In the home environment (and that includes your car—your home on wheels!) children tattle because it works. It hooks you in, the parent, as the solver of the siblings’ problems. And it takes the problem solving responsibility off the kids themselves.
Sometimes tattling serves to get one child (the perceived “bad guy”) in trouble, and that’s just exactly what the other sibling, the tattletale (the perceived “good guy”) wants.
Once in a while, tattling alerts a parent to a real problem or danger. But not often.
Usually, tattling is the easy way out. It gets the parent to do the child’s work. It undermines the children’s ability and efforts to solve problems, to get along, to compromise, and to cultivate tolerance. And you thought tattling was okay!
Your children need to learn the difference between tattling and reporting. When there is danger, it must be reported it to the parent. The baby has a butcher knife and is chasing the cat! That is something you need to know. Tattling is when the parent is told something she does not need to know.
By tattling the child expects you to intervene and solve the problem. That certainly doesn’t give the message that you expect the children to find a solution to their problem or at least really try. Accepting tattling messages that you have no faith in the children’s problem solving skills. When you do not accept tattling, the message of your expectation that the siblings find a solution is clear.
Tattling is a habit. And it’s one that needs to be broken. If you don’t respond, not even with one word, not even by saying “You need to figure it out,” your children will learn that it is their issue to solve, not yours. And they actually might try to work it out.
If a child needs help learning various options for problem solving, of course you can have that conversation…but not in the heat of the moment.
For more information on tattling or for responding to sibling fights, see my book Just Tell Me What to Say.
For now, let you kids know that you made a mistake. “For all this time I thought tattling was okay. Boy, was I ever wrong. I just learned that tattling is illegal! So, no more tattling.”