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5 Steps to Winning the Tattle Battle

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Why is it that tattling bothers moms so much? My kids can’t seem to stop. At times, I think we’ve conquered the tattling beast. Then, they surprise me and run with a string of tattle-filled days. Part of the issue is understanding tattling vs telling.

There’s a fine line between tattling and telling, but knowing the difference can really teach kids important life skills and (fingers crossed) end tattling in your house. Here are 5 easy steps to take to win the tattle battle.

Step 1: Know the difference.

First, let’s define the difference between tattling and telling. Tattling is done when a child is trying to get someone in trouble or won’t take the time to solve the problem on his or her own. Telling is when a child informs an adult that someone is in trouble or has an important issue that requires an adult’s help. Tattling is a child’s attempt to do a parent’s job. Your son may think that his sibling sneaking another cookie is an important issue, but it really isn’t. Moms don’t need a child telling them there are fewer cookies on the plate (because moms will figure that out on their own!).

When tattling occurs, consider it an opportunity to learn more about your child. If children tattle, ask why it’s important that they tell you someone broke a rule. Ask how they feel when someone breaks a rule. Perhaps the tattler gets anxious when a sibling disobeys. This is a great opportunity to teach your child how to cope with anxiety without tattling.

Step 2: Teach kids the difference.

It can be easy every time your child comes to you with a problem to immediately lump it into the tattle category. However, sometimes children actually may be telling because someone isn’t safe or an adult is needed. Discuss things that would count as telling and why they would be labeled that way. This would include things like a child opening a bottle of medication, hurting a pet, or playing with something that isn’t a toy (like a power tool or a gun). All of these events could lead to disastrous results, and therefore qualify as telling instead of tattling. As parents, it’s our job to teach our kids how to help others and make smart choices. Sometimes those choices involve telling about a situation that could harm someone.

Step 3: Give your child a chance to discern tattling vs telling.

Moms have a sixth sense about the heart of most issues with our kids. So we usually can tell quickly when it’s tattling vs telling. When one of my kids comes to me with information about a sibling, I try to first ask, “Are you tattling or telling?” When our kids are forced to think about the words they want to say, it helps them process information. Considering the weight of their words before speaking is a valuable life skill to teach our children.

Step 4: Give kids the tools to face problems.

Most tattling is done when a child can’t or won’t handle his or her own issues. Perhaps your daughter is being teased by her sister. First, empathize with her and acknowledge that sometimes teasing can be mean and hurtful. It’s not wrong to tell an adult when you’re being picked on. But if it’s something minor between siblings, could your child handle it on her own? Does she not want to do the hard work of figuring out a problem herself? When she tattles to you about something you believe she can solve on her own, use it as an opportunity to give her the tools to do so. Walk your kid through ways to problem solve. It’s another great life skill to have.

Step 5: Be consistent.

Consistency is a cardinal rule of parenting. It applies to everything from bedtime to discipline, and standards for tattling are no exception. Sometimes when we are tired, we would rather just deal with the issue at hand over reinforcing a lesson. When your daughter comes running down the hall to say her brother hid her toothbrush, you might be tempted to call big brother out, reprimand him, and tell him to fess up with the location of the missing toothbrush. That takes less effort than repeating steps two through four. But patience and consistency pay off. So whether it’s consistency with siblings, days of the week and your level of exhaustion, or when friends come over to play, remind your kids that your home has declared a tattle battle truce.

How do you handle the tattle battle in your home?


Why is it important not to tattle?

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