If you have more than one child, chances are tattling is commonplace in your home. How you handle it depends upon what type of tattle you are facing. Tailoring your response is the best way to curb this nasty habit. Here are some common tattles you may hear in your home and suggestions for effective responses.
“She’s got her elbows on the table!” Ah, the “holier than thou” tattle. Here your child is simply trying to get his sibling in trouble. He knows the rules and knows that you are the rule enforcer. If he can get you to stop what you are doing and come to the rescue, he has gained a certain degree of power. Don’t fall for it. Simply say: “This is not a safety issue. Eat your dinner.”
Keep in mind that all “tattling” is not wrong. It is essential that you take the time to sit down and teach your children your list of “reportable” behaviors. These include things like: getting too close to the street, getting into the pool without adult supervision or running with something sharp. You can make a game out it by giving them a “safety quiz.” Provide hypothetical situations and ask them to tell you if it would be something you would want to hear about. Keep playing until they show mastery of the concept.
“He took my ball! I had it first!” This tattle is the Bermuda triangle of all tattles. You go inside and you may never come out. Let’s face it, if you weren’t there, you are never going to know what happened for sure. It isn’t even worth trying. So take off your detective hat and hand it back to them. Simply say, “I am confident that you can work it out” and walk away. If you can’t handle the bickering that ensues, remove yourself further. Remember, if you constantly come to their aid in these situations, you will be hampering their conflict resolution skills. You may not like how they come to a resolution, but you will be surprised that it can happen without you.
Make sure that you take time to teach conflict resolution skills during a time of peace. Teach them our S.T.A.L.L. (Stop, Take turns, Accept other views, Listen, and show Love) technique using role play and hypothetical situations.
“Jimmy hit me!” This one is rather easy to handle. You simply (but sincerely) ask: “Are you bleeding? Is anything broken? No? Go play.” This is again a situation in which, if you weren’t there, you aren’t going to know.
If you think you have a bully on your hands you may need to take this a step further. At an unconnected time, take the “victim” child aside to identify ways he can keep himself safe. Send the message loud and clear that he does not need to allow himself to be treated that way. Solutions include: going to his room or coming to play quietly in the same room as you. Adopt a zero tolerance policy for any violence you observe yourself. If there is a real safety issue, up the amount of supervision you provide. But don’t revert to policeman, they still need to work it out on their own.
Keep in mind that repeated tattling can sometimes be in response to a detached parent. If you are inaccessible, too busy or uninvolved, your kids’ tattling may be a way to reel you back in. Of course, your children should not demand all of your attention all day long. However, if you have a kids-should-be-seen-but-not-heard mentality to parenting, you may be inadvertently increasing this behavior. Implement a schedule or routine to your day when your children can count on some uninterrupted time with you. It doesn’t have to be a lot, they just need to know that it is coming and you will be available when it is time.