Tips on Curbing Tattling


Every child will "tattle." These 5 practical tips will reducing tattling from your kids.

“He did it.” “She looked at me!” “He stole my iPod.”

For parents, it can be really tough to know how to handle tattling. Do you ignore it? Do you let them duke it out? Do you plug in your own iPod and drown it out?

Here are a few options for you to try and see what works for you.

Option #1: Define the difference between tattling and telling.

It helps to be clear with children about when it’s important to tell an adult about upsetting behaviors. One way to do that is to teach children the difference between “tattling” and “telling” and then you can develop a family rule about it.

Tattling is when you tell on someone just to get the other person in trouble.

Telling is when you tell an adult that you trust that someone has hurt your body, or is threatening to hurt you or someone else. You should also tell an adult when someone uses words to hurt your feelings over and over.

So when Sue comes and tells you that Joe breathed on her, you can ask “Is your body hurt?” If not, that’s tattling and you don’t listen to the rest of her story.

Option #2: Ignore it and let them work it out between themselves. If one child comes to talk to you, you can empathize, but send the child back equipped to handle the situation on their own by role playing what s/he might say to the other sibling.

Option #3: NEVER take sides in a sibling disagreement.

This advice comes from “Mom! Jason’s Breathing on Me! The Solution to Sibling Bickering” by Anthony E. Wolf. The pat answer you should always use, according to Wolf  is “The two of you. Stop it now. ” You never listen to details and you never take sides. You respond “I don’t want to hear about it.” Wolf’s contention is that siblings tattle to “win” and if you respond and/or take sides that child will “win” and will continue to tattle.

Option #4: Tell the bunny.

A first-grade teacher used this strategy. When a student in her class would come to tell her about an offense, she would ask if anyone was hurt? If not, she would instruct the child to “Go tell the bunny.” (A stuffed animal with big ears to listen with that she kept in the classroom.) The child would also be encouraged to write down the offense on a piece of paper that was put in the “telling box.” At the end of the day, the teacher would read the offenses privately and none of them warranted intervention. This practice significantly reduced the amount of “tattling” that the teacher had to listen to each day.

Option #5: Problem-Solve.

If the situation warrants it, you may want to take the time to teach your children a method for solving problems. Let’s say that two kids want to play computer at the same time and one child comes to tell you about it. You can use the BEAR method for problem-solving. First, ask “What’s the problem and then define the problem in neutral terms.

Then, proceed with these steps:

The B stands for BRAINSTORM.  Think of all possible solutions to the problem.
The E stands for EVALUATE.  What is the best/most feasible solution to this problem?
The A stands for Act.  Act out the best choice after you’ve evaluated the options.
The R stands for REVIEW.  Did I make a good choice?  How did it work?

Let’s try it out and see how it works!  Let’s say that you have two children and they’re fighting over the computer. 

  1. So first, you ask them, what’s the problem?  Then you state the problem in neutral terms, not taking sides with either child. “You both want to play with the computer right now.”  Write the problem down.
  2. Two, you ask the children to think of all the possible solutions. Here are some options:
  • Set a timer and each kid gets the computer for 20 minutes.
  • Make a chart with times that each child can use the computer. Rotate who goes first each day.
  • No one gets to play with the computer.
  • Find a game that both kids can play together on the computer.
  • Go to the library where there are numerous computers to use.

It’s very important not to evaluate the choices yet.  Use the adage that every idea is a good idea.  Don’t criticize.  Just write them down.

  1. Evaluate the options.  Have the kids pick the best choice. (And if they can’t agree, then you make the decision this time.)
  2. Later, ask them “Was it a good choice?”

If you use the BEAR method often enough with your children, they will eventually be able to use this process on their own. And problem-solving is an excellent skill for your kids to have.

Tattling is something that all children will do. Teach your child a better way to communicate with you by selecting one of these five methods.

Toni Schutta is a Parent Coach with 18 years' experience helping parents find solutions that work. Get the complimentary Quick Start Report, "3 Essential Strategies for Getting Your Kids to Listen the First Time" here: