Parenting Solutions: Tattling (page 4)
Gossips, complains, or tells about the actions or plans of another with intent to harm, avoid responsibility, get sympathy or attention; doesn't know how to solve problems, so tattles to get someone to be the arbitrator or problem solver
The Change to Parent For
Your child learns when it is responsibly appropriate to tell, becomes more selective about what she should tell, and develops skills to solve her own problems.
"Mahhhmmm! Sara just took a cookie!" "Kara pinched me!" "You're going to get in big trouble when I tell Dad." "Wait until I tell the teacher what you just did!"
Let's face it: tattling can be a real friendship stifler. Who wants a friend (or sibling) who just can't wait to snitch to someone in authority about the bad stuff you've done? Tattling is a learned behavior that typically starts when kids are preschoolers and is usually the first step to that other annoying "any age" behavior called malicious gossiping. If your kid keeps telling on her friends, no one is going to want her around. After all, what child wants to play with someone who is always telling on him? And this behavior has no redeeming qualities. It only causes bad feelings between the tattletale and the accused and often leads to resentment and broken friendships. To the other kids, a tattler is someone who can't be trusted or who wants to be a kiss-up Goody Two-Shoes. A tattler can also get a bad reputation among adults. Would you want a kid around who is constantly complaining or bothering you with trivial grievances? The good news is that this annoying behavior can be changed, and this entry offers simple solutions to help you make that change.
One Simple Solution
A Five-Finger Problem Solver to Stop Tattling
Some kids—especially young kids—tattle because they don't know how to solve problems. The next time your kid expects you to resolve her problem, teach her how to brainstorm options using her five fingers.
Parent: Hold up your thumb and say your problem.
Child: (holding up thumb): Sara took my doll.
Parent: Now name three ways you could fix your problem. Hold up each finger as you say a solution.
Child: (holding up index finger): You could buy me a new doll.
Child: (holding up middle finger): I could take it from her.
Child: (holding up ring finger): We could take turns.
Parent: (holding up pinkie): Now there's one finger left, so hold up your pinkie. Which is the best way to fix your problem?
Child: We'll take turns playing with it.
Go through the steps again and again until your child can fix her own problems without tattling or using her hand to remind her of the problem-solving steps. Of course you can use the same problem-solving technique without the fingers with older kids. The trick is to teach them to brainstorm their own solutions.
Five Strategies for Change
- Figure out the reason. Start by asking yourself what might be provoking your child to tattle. Here are a few possibilities. Check those that routinely apply to your child:
- Could she be craving your attention?
- Is she seeking control? Think about it: it's pretty powerful knowing you can get a sibling or friend in trouble.
- Is she trying to get back at a kid who hurt her? Could this be her way of retaliating?
- Is she stuck in a problem that she doesn't know how to solve, and looking for the adult to step in and fix everything?
- Does she not have enough time to be with you and uses tattling as her way of letting you know what's going on with her life?
- Does she have poor impulse control and can't keep those thoughts to herself?
- Is she trying to align herself with the grown-up population because kids her age aren't letting her into their world?
- Does she have an overzealous conscience? An overly strong moral compass can lead to self-righteousness that puts friends off.
- Is she lacking assertiveness skills and unable to stick up for herself? Is she resorting to tattling so you can translate her needs to the other kid?
- Does she think she's being your "little helper"? Might you have reinforced this? "Thanks for telling me!" "Well, that isn't the kind of friend you should be hanging around." Might you be unintentionally encouraging her tattling by responding positively to her every little complaint?
- Explain the difference between "tattling" and "telling." If your child is a repeat tattler, then a little teaching is called for. She needs to understand when tattling is acceptable and when it is not. "Tattling is when you want to get your friend in trouble. Telling is when you report something that will get your friend out of trouble or help him so he doesn't get hurt." You do want your child to tell you when she (or another child) is scared, touched in an uncomfortable way, feeling unsafe, hurt, in danger, or concerned about something. You don't want to hear tattling when the sole purpose is for attention or to get the other person in trouble. So be very clear as to the difference. A few kid books that teach the difference between telling and tattling include Armadillo Tattletale, by Helen Ketteman; A Bad Case of Tattle Tongue, by Julia Cook and Anita DuFalla; Telling Isn't Tattling, by Kathryn M. Hammerseng; Don't Squeal Unless It's a Big Deal: A Tale of Tattletales, by Jeanie Franz Ranson and Jackie Urbanovic; Tattlin' Madeline, by Carol Cummings; and The Tattle Tail Tale, by Tandy Braid.
- Announce your new policy. Once your kid understands the difference between tattling and telling, explain your new rule: "From now on I will not listen when you tattle about your friends or family members." Your child needs to know you are serious, so make sure you announce your new rule with a serious tone.
- Calmly respond with the new tattling policy. From this moment on, consistently downplay your child's tattling antics until she realizes they aren't going to work. Of course there are always extenuating circumstances, so here are a few solutions to help you handle the most typical tattling problems:
- If your younger child has problems remembering the rule, just ask this simple question: "Is that helpful or hurtful?" Then remind her that you only listen to helpful news.
- If your kids are put off seeing a peer break a house rule that they have had to abide by, acknowledge feelings: "I know you think it's unfair. Just let your friend know how you feel."
- If the tattler's information is correct (and you know so because you saw the incident happen), stay cool. Just a simple, "I'll take care of this" is all you need to say. Do have a conversation with the little offender, but do so out of earshot of the tattler.
- If your child has depended on you to solve her problems, stop being the arbitrator. Step back so your child knows you want and expect her to solve her own issues.
- If the tattling is affecting a relationship, help your child understand the impact her behavior has on her friend's feelings: "Every time Maria comes over, you tattle on her. How do you think she feels?"
- If sibling resentment is a problem because of past tattling, use this rule: "If I don't see or hear it, I don't punish it." Of course there may be instances in which you can find evidence and put two and two together, but for the most part stick to that rule and don't punish unobserved acts.
- If your child has an overactive conscience and feels the need to report every rule infraction, use this approach: "I like how you follow our house rule and put your toys away, but I don't need to know that your friends aren't following our house rules. That's for their parents' to be concerned about." Also, don't let another kid call your child "a tattletale." Other kids can quickly pick up on the term and start the teasing and name-calling game.
- Be consistent. If you want change, you must be consistent with your policy each and every time your kid tattles. Pass your plan on to other caring adults who spend time with your child—Grandma, the teacher, the babysitter, Dad, the playgroup moms—so that they can get on board with you and respond in the same way to your child's tattling. It will take a while for your kid to know you mean business, but if you and other adults stick to your new rule, your child will know you really are serious.
What To Expect By Stages And Ages
Preschooler Expect preschoolers to be a bit more overly conscientious, self-righteous, and concerned about right and wrong because of their stage of moral development. Four- to five-year-olds are especially sensitive to following adult rules and often feel it's their duty to report anything that even remotely breaks them.135 They can be especially upset if they see another child breaking the same rule they have been required to obey and may have even been punished for. A young child's conscience is all about obeying Mommy and Daddy's rules.
School Age From five to seven years of age, children become increasingly intolerant of any violation of their rights and privileges (especially by younger siblings). Competitiveness increases, so watch out for tattling as a way of upping a peer.
Tween Tattling now moves up a notch and turns into malicious gossip, and can be delivered electronically (cell phone, e-mail, text messaging) as well as face-to-face. Rather than tattling to an adult, kids now report peer comings and goings to each other as a means of establishing social rank or status in a clique; this form of "tattling" is more prevalent among girls than boys.
One Parent's Answer
A mom from Sioux Falls shares:
My son tattled constantly, expecting me to solve every little trial and tribulation. So I made up little scenarios like "Your brother fell and can't get up." "Your sister is stuck in the tree." "The ball rolled across the street and Kenny is trying to get it." Then we role-played ways to solve them. He loved acting out the scenes, but it also helped him learn he could resolve his problems without tattling.
When You Do Want Kids to "Tattle"
A survey found that 81 percent of American teens have become more willing to break the "code of silence" and report students who pose a threat to school safety or security.136 Prior to a wave of horrific shootings on school campuses, older kids were leery of reporting threats, considering such reports "tattling" or "snitching." Make sure your child understands that this is not tattling or malicious gossip; she should be one of the "willing students." Talk to your child about which adults she would feel safe or comfortable going to if someone were threatened, scared, in danger, or hurt. When it comes to school safety, kids may well be the best metal detector: two-thirds of adolescents who commit homicide, suicide, or a school shooting share their intentions with a peer. Impress on your kids the importance of telling an adult their legitimate concerns with the guarantee that their report will be taken seriously.
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