Tattling. Every mother’s dread and every sibling’s weapon. But trying to stop a tattletale can walk a fine line between a parenting utopia and your kids never telling you anything again. So how do you stop the tattling, make sure they still tell you the important stuff, and (most importantly) save your sanity?
How Tattling Always Starts
It almost always starts the same way. The kids are playing so well together. I feel like I’m finally winning at this mom-ing thing. But then, the girls both want the same thing and the yelling starts.
I don’t ever jump in. Sometimes because I’m hoping an invisibility cloak appears and I can continue folding laundry in peace. Sometimes I don’t jump in because I’m hoping they will work it out.
Inevitably, someone will shout, “I’m telling Mommy!” And then the other shouts, “I’M telling Mommy!”
And then the ear-piercing scream to two little girls, “MOOOOOOOMYYYYYY!”
I try to run but they’ve got heat-seeking senses. Although I would rather avoid it altogether, it’s important to handle these situations when they come up.
Kids need to learn how to work out problems together and part of that is teaching them the difference between tattling and telling.
What is the difference between tattling and telling?
If the definition of tattle is to “tell another’s wrongdoing” (Dictionary.com), then would it be okay if, let’s say, one of your children is telling that the other is climbing to the top of the dresser and jumping off like Peter Pan?
Well, yes. Of course!
So then, what about if one of them decides to tell that another child in the house took out the chocolate chip cookies and started eating them for breakfast? (they didn’t do it, of course, despite the chocolate around their mouth.)
Nope. Not okay.
It can get confusing for young ones (and older children even have a hard time) to determine what is tattling and what is telling. In our house, tattling is giving us any information that doesn’t protect the sibling (or someone else).
Jumping off the dresser or stairs in an attempt to be Peter Pan will land someone in the hospital with a broken bone.
Eating too many chocolate chip cookies for breakfast will just land someone on the toilet or doubled over in pain with a stomachache.
Why Do Kids Tattle?
Munchkin (5) and Punkin (2) are the biggest culprits when it comes to tattling. In actuality, Punkin doesn’t do it too much. Munchkin, typical Type A personality of a firstborn, loves to be a mama to her siblings – particularly, to Punkin.
It’s not uncommon for a 2-year-old to get into everything. Using permanent markers to create wall art. Emptying a whole roll of toilet paper inside the toilet. Peeing on the carpet and not telling you until after you have stepped in it barefoot.
Sure, they are all things that you would want to know about ahead of time. It saves time, money, and that icky feeling of germs crawling all over your body.
But in actuality, teaching kids how to tell instead of tattle sends them on the road to maturity. Think about an adult tattling. Not cool.
We realized Munchkin’s motivation behind every tattletale was to get someone in trouble. And being the oldest of the littles in the house, sometimes leaves her extroverted heart thirsting for time with mama.
And ultimately, kids realize that doing the ‘bad’ things – in this case, tattling – gets them the attention they really desire.
Ultimately, it happens because it gives tattletales the attention that they are longing for.
I’ll just admit it. For this tired mama of 5, it’s easy to overlook and then just give attention when Munchkin misbehaves. The problem is that she is learning that misbehavior. Reducing the need for tattle tailing and providing some positive time together will take us a long way with our tattletale kiddos.
Like most things in parenting, it’s about setting healthy boundaries. It gives them freedom – and you!
Recommended Reading: Setting Boundaries Gives Your Kids the Freedom They Really Want
The One Question that Has Stopped the Tattletale (And Saved My Sanity)
There are great children’s books out there that provide a humorous and loving way of teaching children the difference between tattling and telling. They also lead to the one simple question that we decided to start asking Munchkin.
“Are you telling us because you are trying to protect her or to get her in trouble?”
“Hmm. Get her in trouble.”
“Then I don’t want to hear it. What you can do instead is give her information. Tell her, ‘Punkin, we aren’t supposed to eat chocolate chip cookies for breakfast.’ Don’t make her stop. Just give her the information. It is not your job to make her stop.”
We’ll find out about it. I would expand the question even one step further to include the destruction of things.
Are you trying to protect someone or something? Or are you trying to get her in trouble?
Like everything, it’s a process. She needs to be reminded often how to determine whether she should tell us or not. It didn’t take long before there was an improvement though.
Things to Watch Out for When Correcting Tattletales
It’s a natural response to tell a kid to stop being a tattletale. But they don’t really know what that is. If they look at tattling vs. telling, they often see the two things as the same if they feel like they are only ever getting in trouble. Eventually, they think everything is tattling and just stop talking altogether.
Allow them to make mistakes when they are learning to stop tattling. Responses like “Haven’t I told you not to tattle?” and “Why didn’t you tell me she poured the salt on the table then climbed up and started licking it off?” don’t help and cause confusion
Also, it’s easy to ask the older kids to go check on the little ones and have them report back. Don’t do it. This only encourages them to tell on their siblings and sends them mixed messages. Instead, try asking them to “check on Punkin and make sure she isn’t doing anything that would hurt her.” And then take it as an opportunity to remind them of the difference between tattling and telling. “If you see her doing something she shouldn’t ask yourself if you should tell: are you trying to protect her or get her in trouble.”