"Mummy, Karthik got into a fight in school today" blurts out your young daughter Sandhya, about her brother. This is as soon as you open the door to both of them when they return from school. Sandhya is tattling. Just like many other children. What should you do about it?
Tattling is unacceptable except in certain circumstances.
Negative effects of tattling:
- Children do not learn to resolve problems between themselves. Instead they keep going to an adult.
- The tattler not be able to make or keep friends if they are known as a tattler.
- The one tattled upon may feel victimized.
- You may find yourself being involved in every small dispute, which may drive you crazy.
- The number of differences or fights between your children will increase significantly as they do not mutually resolve differences.
Circumstances in which tattling is acceptable (in these cases it is not tattling, it is a legitimate complaint):
- For safety reasons
- If there is an impending emergency
- If there is an impending health, behavioral or criminal problem
- If someone is being physically abused or bullied
- When the conflict has become very bad
What to do when tattling is unacceptable?
- Counsel the tattler
- If they complain about something that does not concern them, tell them to focus on themselves and turn the topic towards them - "You should focus on yourself. Your brother and I communicate very well also. Tell me about your day"
- If they complain about a small issue between the two, counsel them to resolve their own differences - "You and your sister need to resolve your issues amongst yourselves. You know what is right, wrong, fair and unfair. What do you recommend as the solution for this?"
- If you see a consistent pattern of tattling, take them aside and talk to them.
- Do not have this talk just when they have tattled. Have it at a different time when they are in a communicative mood.
- Treat the matter gently rather than harshly.
- Ask them why they feel they have to complain about their sibling - there maybe some deep-rooted feelings which you should try to understand. If you get a good explanation, discuss with them how to resolve it.
- When their tattling is about bad behaviour by someone else, do compliment them on recognizing what is good behaviour and what is not. But teach them how to try and resolve it by themselves without complaining to an adult.
- Do explain to them what your expectations are.
- Make it clear to them that they should feel comfortable to come talk to you about what they observe, but tell them when it is acceptable and when it is not.
- Explain to them that they need to build their own relationships with siblings and not just with you
- Explain to them that "words" are great tools to use and they should use them with their siblings.
- Do not immediately punish the child who is being tattled on
- By ignoring the complaint, you are telling the tattler that there is nothing to gain from tattling.
- But do not ignore the problem either. Keep an eye for similar behaviour and address it proactively the next time you see it.
Tattling is not something you can eliminate completely. Neither is your child an exception. All children tattle some of the time.
The best approach for you is to work with your child over time and explain what is acceptable and what is not.