taming tattling - Boston Moms Blog

The tattling in my house has gotten out of hand.

The idea for this post came out of my own desire to stop my children, ages 7 and 8, from tattling on each other constantly. I want my children to know they can always come to me if they need help, and it’s not tattling if someone is in danger. When I was a teacher, I always told my students to tell the person to stop, then try walking away, and if those don’t work, always tell an adult. Children need to feel safe and comfortable going to a trusted adult for help. But sometimes tattling gets out of hand.

The problem my children have is deciphering which situations require tattling. For example, your sister breathing on you or your brother stealing your seat does not require me to get out of the shower to solve the “problem.” They should be able to solve some of their own problems by now, am I right? I began searching online for answers to why some children tattle so much and how to tame it. I needed some tips now that they’re home for the summer and are driving me INSANE with the constant tattling. There is a lot of information out there, and it can get overwhelming. So here is what I’ve found to be the most helpful.

Why do children tattle?

Children tattle for a variety of reasons. School-aged children are learning a lot about rules, right and wrong, and what’s fair, so they feel the need to point something out when it’s not “fair” or following the rules. Children who tattle may be trying to one-up another child (which I believe my children are doing) or get them back for a previous tattling experience. They also may be trying to exert power or get attention. Younger children may not have developed the skills they need to solve a problem, so tattling works as their solution. According to an article on Psychology Today, 6- and 7-year-olds thought tattling was appropriate to report all wrong-doings, but 8- to 10-year-olds believed it was appropriate to tattle only about serious wrong-doings.

What can you do about it?

1. Define tattling vs. telling

Many children need help understanding the difference between tattling and telling. Let your children know that tattling is when you’re trying to get someone in trouble, and telling is when you’re trying to keep someone safe or truly need adult help. You should tell if someone may get hurt or something may get broken. Suggest they try asking themselves, “Am I trying to get someone into trouble, or am I trying to help?”

2. Mediate the problem

When a child doesn’t yet have the skills he needs to solve a problem, he will need guidance. For example, not sharing or feeling left out are big ones children often need help with. Let them each share their feelings and a possible solution, then decide together how to solve the issue. If you mediate enough, they will gain the skills to start solving problems on their own, hopefully sooner rather than later (because who has the time to mediate every problem)?

3. Show empathy and give positive feedback

Sometimes the tattler simply needs a hug and for you to say, “Thank you for following the rules.” That’s it!

4. Give a disinterested response

It can be tempting to take immediate action when a child is breaking a (not-unsafe) rule. But that’s exactly what the tattler wants you to do, and it may encourage more tattling. Try giving an unemotional response such as, “I will take care of the problem. Don’t worry about it.” Then speak with the other child out of ear-shot. This way, nobody is getting rewarded for tattling, but there is still a consequence for the child who is breaking the rule.

I am hopeful these tips will work, and I wish you good luck at taming the tattling in your house! If you have some tips that have worked for you, please share them in the comments.

Ranessa Doucet
Ranessa is a Boston native who grew up in Charlestown and never gets tired of exploring the city. She now lives north of Boston with her husband, two kids, and two mischievous pugs. Ranessa earned her master’s degree in elementary education and licensure in early childhood education. She currently works as an Academic Interventionist and Freelance Writer. Ranessa loves writing about parenting tweens, exploring New England, health, and self-care. When not writing or reading, you can find her watching reality TV, eating chocolate, attending her kids’ sporting events, and dreaming about the beach.