How to Stop the Tattling

“Mom!  Jake hit me!”  “Mom!  Grace took my toy!”  “Mom!”  You get the idea.  Tattle telling can sound like nails on a chalkboard. In addition to the annoyance, you might be concerned that your kids will carry this bad habit into their school life, and that it might affect their ability to make and keep friends.

Author Ginger Plowman boils tattling down to this, “Tattling is typically motivated by one sibling taking pleasure in the other sibling’s suffering, which ultimately creates an atmosphere of opposition and conflict. Siblings who are committed to getting one another in trouble will wedge a thorn of distrust in their relationship, disrupting the harmony of the whole family.”

Tattling can also be a child’s way of saying, “That’s not fair!  I get into trouble when I do something wrong, he should too!”

So how do you curb your tattler’s instincts to keep running to you whenever he is mad at his sister or doesn’t get his way? Plowman makes the following suggestions:

 Help Your Child Understand His Motivations

Help your tattler examine his motives as much as possible for his age and developmental stage. Ask your child questions to help get to the root of the tattling and to help him understand why he does it. For example, you could ask if him what he hopes will happen to his sibling from the tattling or if he actually enjoys seeing his brother get in trouble. Plowman advises, “Use questions that will cause the tattler to take his attention off what someone else has done wrong and instead think about his own wrong motives.”

Madelyn:        Mom!  Mom!  Jack turned the DVD player on and put a DVD in!

Mom:              Madelyn, did Jack break the DVD player?

Madelyn:        No.  But…

Mom:              Did he get hurt when he turned it on?

Madelyn:        No.  But you told him not…

Mom:              Why are you telling me this?

Madelyn:        Because you told us not to touch it.  I didn’t and he did.  He should go in time out.

Mom:              So you want me to know that you obeyed?

Madelyn:        Yes.  I did what you said.

Mom:              Honey, that is really good.  I appreciate you obeying.  But unless Jack is doing something that could hurt him or someone else, or unless he is breaking something, you don’t need to come tell me.  I’m aware of what’s going on.  I’ll take care of Jack’s behavior, OK?

In addition, teach your children basic decision-making skills and help them understand how their actions will have consequences for themselves and others. Try to encourage him to think before they tattle.

But, make sure they know that you want them to tell you if their sibling is in danger or causing others to be in danger.   Eventually, you want your child to learn how to handle situations on his own. But even then, he will sometimes encounter a serious problem which he has legitimately tried to handle, but is unable to resolve without your help. If this is the case, Plowman says this is another situation in which tattling is OK.

 Tell Your Child Why Tattling is Wrong

As much as your children may fight and bicker now, remind them that they will be family for the rest of their lives. Hopefully your children are starting to view each other as friends, but if not, help develop that friendship aspect of their relationship. Plowman says, “… it is important that they nurture their friendship. Encourage them to be best friends and to seek every opportunity to develop a bond of closeness.”

Help your tattler think about the situation from their sibling’s point of view. How would they feel if they were tattled on? Help them understand how tattling will only hurt their friendship, not help it. Encourage them to work things out with each other.

 Teach Your Child How Not to Tattle

Tattling may be a difficult habit to break in your child, especially if it has been tolerated for a long time. In addition to discussing with your child why tattling is wrong and trying to discipline him for it, teach your child how to overcome tattling. For example, get your child to think of ways he could encourage his sibling in a bad situation and talk through the problem, rather than telling on him. And if you ever notice your children attempting to work out a fight without your help, be sure to praise them for it.

 Give Your Child Opportunities to Practice

As with any skill, practice is key to mastering how not to tattle and how to relate to others. One way to give your child a chance to learn is to role play. Plowman suggests, “Lead both children back to the scene of the crime. Allow them to re-enact what happened. Require the tattler to encourage his or her sibling to do what is right. Require the sibling to heed the encouragement and thank his or her brother/sister.”

Mom:              OK, show me what happened.

Haley:             I said I was going to have some candy and she grabbed it from me.  That’s why I came to tell you.

Mom:              Alright, now show me what else you could’ve done when your sister took your candy.

Haley:             I don’t know.  I guess I could’ve said, “Anna, that was going to be my candy.  I’ll go see if there’s more, but you need to give that one back.”

Mom:              Haley, that’s very good.  Anna, what should you have done then?

Anna:             I probably should have given her the candy back, but I didn’t want to.

Mom:              Well, you know though that it was the right thing to do.  If your sister asks nicely, and if she is trying to work things out, you need to help her.  If you don’t, I do want her to come and tell me.  Understand?

I know, easier said than done.  These steps may take some time, and you may find that tattling is a hard habit to break, but once you show your child some alternatives, tattling should diminish.  Yea!  Fewer “nails on the chalkboard” moments!


Information for this article was taken from Ginger Plowman’s article, “Taming the Tattler.” For more articles from Ginger, visit her website at

© 2006 iMom. All rights reserved.