Breaking Young Kids' Tattletale Habit
Seven steps for parents to stop kids from unnecessary snitching
Tattling is all too common for families – especially those with children ages 5 to 10. Although parents want to keep an open line of communication, teaching youngsters to discern when to and not to tell can be complicated and confusing.
To help break the tattletale habit, experts suggest parents start by exploring the motive behind the action. The most prominent reason is a developmental stage called rule-governed behavior. Somewhere around 5, kids begin to understand there are rules to be followed – but they don't have the capacity to distinguish between major and minor rule-breaking. The result is that every broken rule is brought to an adult's attention.
Until about age 7 or 8, a child doesn't have the ability to make the distinction between what does and doesn't need to be told, so the pros suggest parents guide the child in the process. Here are some tips to help tame the tattletale in your child.
1. Motivating factors. First look at what prompted the tattling. Is the child speaking up because he knows a rule has been broken but hasn't developed the cognitive skills to understand when it's important to and not to tell? Does he lack the social skills needed to resolve problems on his own? Children also may tattle if they feel something is unfair, to get another child in trouble, for attention or approval, or for deflection. Once the motive has been determined, parents can properly address it.
2. Brush aside, but don't boot. When the child tattles, downplay the pronouncement, but don't completely dismiss it. Use this time to begin teaching him the difference between trivial and timely telling. Explain that tattling isn't necessary (a child broke his crayon), but telling informs of a danger (a child is playing with matches).
3. Listen and learn. Since many children under age 8 don't have the ability to make the distinction between what does and doesn't need to be told, parents can guide their child in the process. Listen and acknowledge the child's feelings. Once you know what he is saying, stop and ask, "Is someone going to get hurt? Is anyone crying?" If the answer is "no," tell your child he didn't need to tell you that. In this way he will begin to understand good and bad judgment calls.
4. Partner and problem solve. Parents may need to coach their child on problem-solving skills. Tell him as long as people are working together peacefully and no one is in danger, they can work out solutions on their own. In this way, parents equip their child to take charge of situations.
5. Skip scolding. Don't scold or punish the child for tattling, as this may cut off all lines of communication.
6. Maximize listening skills. Be present, nurturing and interested in what the child has to say. But if the tale isn't of a crisis nature, minimize the response and, with time, it may subside.
7. Wait it out. Most children outgrow tattling as they mature. If not, social consequences such as being ostracized by peers or becoming a victim of tattling may cure unnecessary snitching for good.