There is a lot to love about having a four or five year old. By the time your child reaches kindergarten, she is potty trained, creative, exuberant, learning to read, and increasingly capable of verbalizing problems rather than hitting or throwing tantrums. However, her social skills are still developing and she relies on you to help her resolve conflicts. As a result, you may notice that she is a bit of a tattletale. To nip this issue in the bud early on, you need to help your child distinguish the difference between reporting a problem and telling on someone.
Assess the Situation
You want your child to grow up trusting that he can always come to you if he or someone he knows is in serious trouble. Avoid dismissing his claims outright – no matter how frequently he does tattle – to make sure that what he is telling you doesn’t demand adult intervention. On the other hand, you also need a plan of action for all of the times that your child approaches you to solve a minor problem for him or to get another child in trouble. Don’t immediately scold your child for telling you that a sibling is shoving him, jumping on his bed, or pouring sand all over the grass. He is still learning to determine what is really dangerous and what is a minor problem that he can ignore or resolve independently. Start by simply acknowledging that you heard what he said.
Avoid Reinforcing the Behavior
Although you should lovingly acknowledge your child’s presence when she approaches you with a non-emergency report, you should also respond as impartially as possible to avoid reinforcing her desire to tattle. As kind as you know your child can be, her reasons for tattling may not always be 100 percent noble. She may be seeking attention, testing your consistency as rule maker, or trying to exert power over her playmates. On principle, avoid disciplining the alleged perpetrator in your child’s recounting of events – particularly if you didn’t see what happened – otherwise your child will receive the message that tattling gets her the attention and the authority that she seeks. Rather, respond to her tattle with a simple comment such as, “Well, I’m glad that you remember the rule about going down the slide on your bottom,” she will eventually realize that tattling about minor infractions isn’t worth the effort.
Brainstorm Alternative Strategies
Your child may be tattling because he doesn’t have any other strategy for solving conflicts independently. Work with him to brainstorm multiple reliable conflict resolution strategies. For example, if he tattles when a playmate won’t share a toy, guide him with questions such as, “What can you say to him when he doesn’t share?” or, “What can you do if he still won’t share?” If he struggles to come up with solutions, offer a couple of suggestions – such as verbalizing his feelings to the other person or choosing to move on to a different activity – to get the ball rolling. He will start to feel empowered when he realizes that he has his own problem solving skills. Still, don’t expect him to use these skills consistently right away. Consider printing out pictures with captions of the problem solving tools you’ve brainstormed and put them on a “Solution Wall” at his eye level. That way, when he comes to you with a tattle in the future, you can ask, “What strategies have you tried?” or simply tell him, “Solve the problem,” and remind him to go look at his problem solving options.
Add More Responsibilities
Because your child is still learning to determine when a problem does and doesn’t demand adult intervention, she may come to you with tattles even when she has multiple problem solving strategies up her sleeve. If her incessant tattling is giving you a daily headache, create a reporting system that requires her to write down or draw a picture of the problem. Have a “tattle box” or “tattle jar” designated for these incident reports and tell her that you will look through them later. This will cut down on the tattles you have to hear throughout the day, and your child may end up deciding that certain incidents aren’t big enough to warrant a written complaint after all.