NZ Woman's Weekly

Telltale children

If you have a child who is prone to being a tattletale, you’ll know how annoying it can be.

Does this sound familiar? “Mum, Josh just kicked me!” “Mum, Gemma had two biscuits instead of one!” “Mum, that boy over there didn’t wait his turn in line!”

Sometimes there’s a good reason why they’ve come running to you to tell on someone, but often there’s no need for you to get involved in whatever has them worked up.

But how do you deal with tale-telling without making your child feel ignored, or over-react in a situation that doesn’t really require adult intervention?

Understanding why they snitch is the first step.

Kids tell tales because…

When children are at preschool, they often need adult help to sort out disputes. Because they don’t have the skills to do it on their own, they naturally ask you to resolve things.

By the age of five, many kids have developed a strong sense of right and wrong and it upsets them when someone breaks the rules. They feel there should be consequences, and they want to share their concerns with someone they trust.

However, they can’t tell the difference between major and minor infractions. As a result, even trivial wrongdoing is brought to your attention.

And, yes, there are cases when they do tell on someone purely to get them in trouble. Sibling rivalry can be to blame, or they may be jealous of another child.

Wanting you or another adult to see them as “the good kid” who is shedding light on the behaviour of “the bad kid” can also be the motivation, until they realise you don’t appreciate their efforts.

You need to stop it because…

A child who constantly snitches on their peers risks damaging friendships and becoming socially isolated.

For their sake, they need to learn to distinguish between when to speak up and when to keep quiet.

Most children should be able to start doing this after the age of seven or eight.

You can help them by…

• Considering why they’ve
done it. Are they genuinely concerned about something that has happened, or are they just trying to cause trouble? Try to tailor your response to their motivation for telling tales.

• Downplaying what they say without completely dismissing it. Don’t ignore them – this can make them feel that nothing they say is worth listening to – but don’t keep acting on their information (unless someone really is in danger), as this will just reinforce their behaviour.

• Talking through what has happened and helping them
to understand when something is trivial, and when it needs to be reported. Ask, “Why are you telling me? Is anyone crying? Can you sort the problem out yourselves?”

• Coaching them before incidents arise on coping skills, such as learning to ignore name calling.
In some cases role-playing can help, so they are prepared for
a situation. Ask what they think would be the best response to certain behaviour.

• Telling them you are confident they can resolve the problem. Ask them how they think they might
do that, then leave them to it.

real life

Kate, mum of two, says: “When my daughter turned five, she seemed to think it was her moral duty to tell me about every single misdemeanor her younger brother committed.

While there were times he needed to be disciplined for his behaviour, most of it was over ridiculous little things. It got very tiring.

When we realised, during a parent-teacher interview, that she was doing the same thing at school with her classmates, we knew we had to stop it.

We had a serious talk to her about what it means to be a tattletale and told her to ask herself several questions before running off to tell on someone.

These included, ‘Am I telling because I want to hurt or help this person?’ ‘Is what they’ve done really that important or serious?’ ‘Did they do it to hurt me or are they just not thinking?’ ‘What can I say or do to sort things out?’ ‘How would I feel if I was in their shoes and someone kept telling on me?’ Eventually, the tale-telling stopped.”


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