What to do when your kid “tattles”

“Mom, Jase is being mean. He won’t let me…”

“Lexie hit me!”

As parents, we are all too familiar with our kids coming to tell us what another sibling/friend/classmate did wrong. And too often, I hear parents telling their kids not to “tattle.” I have even said that to my own kids but then wondered later if I am doing the right thing.

I mean after all we want our children to come to us when something is wrong. We need to know if someone is hurting them or doing something dangerous.

My friend, Sara, had an issue with her daughter’s teacher telling her eight-year-old daughter Madeline not to “tattle” when a boy was hitting her. She was asking for help after having already told the boy to stop doing it. The teacher wasn’t hearing her plea for help. She assumed, as too many of us parents and teachers do, that Madeline was just seeking attention or attempting to get the other kid in trouble.

Sometimes adults assume tattling is an outright lie but research has shown that nine out of 10 times, a tattler is telling the truth.

I recently read an article online about tattling, and it confirmed my concern about telling my child not to “tattle” is a mistake. We are not encouraging kids to work it out or “tough it out.” We are basically dismissing their concern. There is a distinct difference between reporting and tattling.

reportingvstattlingAccording to the article, research suggests that by the time a child comes to tell you something is wrong the child has already endured or witnessed the kid’s offense multiple times. By the time they come to you, they have run out of options. They are asking for help.

As parents, we often tell our kids we want them to tell us when something is wrong. We want them to tell us the truth. But then we contradict ourselves when we tell them not to tattle.

The article suggested we stress to the children that it is important to report other’s harmful behavior – such as the case with Madeline’s classmate who was hitting her and wouldn’t stop when asked. In this case, it really isn’t tattling. And ignoring the child’s plea for help can make them less likely to report harmful behavior in the future and can teach them to be silent when they observe bullying and abuse later.

So what should you do next time your child comes to you with what sounds like a tattle?

  • Ask – “Are you OK?”
  • Ask – “Did you tell him/her to stop?”
  • If your child did not tell them to stop, then part of the problem solving would be to work on this. It can be hard for a child to assert themselves.
  • Listen attentively to your child as they tell you their side of the story. This will let them know that you are taking their concern seriously (even if you don’t agree with their perspective.)
  • End by asking your child what you can do to help. He or she may not need anything other than to be heard. Or he or she may request that you intervene on their behalf. Or this might be a time to brainstorm solution for next time this becomes an issue.

So next time Lexie or Jase comes in to tell me of some offense the other one has done, I am going to stop and listen to them instead of dismissing their claims as an attempt to get the other one in trouble. Not only will this encourage them to reach out to me but hopefully, I can help them decide what issues are important enough to bring forward and which ones they should be able to handle on their own.

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