Tattle Tale, Tattle Tale

Child portrait

By Donna Shea & Nadine Briggs

All kids, at some time or another, tattle. Some kids are consistent, reliable informants. The problem with tattling is that it doesn’t win you many friends. The reasons that kids tattle may include:

  • Anxiety around the fact that someone may not be following the rules;
  • Purposefully trying to get another child in trouble; and,
  • Lacking conflict-resolution or problem-solving skills.

How you handle episodes of tattling depends on the reason that the child is reporting minor incidences.

If a child tattles due to anxiety about what other people should or should not be doing, a strategy is to remind that child that the problem doesn’t belong to them, and if they are following the rules or directions and doing what they are supposed to be doing, they can ignore other people’s choices. There are some anxious children, that no matter how much you re-direct the tattling, it is a NEED of theirs to report. In this instance, try using the strategy of saying, “thanks for the information, I’ll take it from here.” This should provide closure for the child and then you as the adult can decide whether or not there is something to further explore or address.

For children that are deliberately trying to get another child in trouble and reporting something to you, that may or may not be true and is minor, we suggest calling it out. You could say something such as, “That is tattling and it is unkind. I’m sure that you would not like __________ to tattle on you.” A real-life instance of social coaching a tattling incident occurred a few years ago at my Center. I was working with a small group of kids when a little girl, we’ll call her Sally, ran over to me and said, “Miss Donna! Tommy is writing naughty words on the whiteboard.” Of course, Tommy is right behind Sally, with a deer-in-the-headlights look on his face, knowing he was going to get it. I looked at Sally and said, “That’s tattling. Is anyone getting hurt or anything dangerous happening?” She said, “no.” I then replied, “then I didn’t really need to be informed.” The look of relief on Tommy’s face was precious, and Sally just looked at me in a confused way and went back to playing with the other kids. However, I then had to say to Tommy, “Now I know what is going on in there. And I know you know the rule and that it isn’t okay to do that. What should happen now?” Tommy replied, “I’m sorry Miss Donna. I’ll go erase it and I won’t do it again.” Tattler down. Situation handled.

There are also situations where children tattle because they have not yet built the skills to solve a problem on their own. We teach these children the three steps to solving a problem:

TALK: Use a stick-up-for-yourself sentence. For example, “Billy, stop calling me names.”

WALK: If that doesn’t resolve it, it’s time to go find something else to do or someone else to play with.

ASK: And if Billy continues to follow and call names, it’s time to ask for help. If you are teaching children the TALK-WALK-ASK™ method, you should ask if they have done the first two steps when they come to you to report. If they have, you as the adult can step in to model conflict resolution and problem-solving strategies.

We teach kids that there are major differences between tattling and telling. Anything purposefully dangerous, hurtful or destructive should be immediately reported to an adult. Below is a printable (click on it to open larger size) that you can use to help children understand the difference. With time, patience and practice, you can help children learn to resolve their own minor issues and decrease the need for tattling.

Tattling versus Telling