Tattling vs. Telling

We all want our kids to tell us when something is wrong, but what constitutes when something is “wrong” can be very different for kids than for adults. It seems there is a fine line between “telling” an adult when something is actually wrong and a child “tattling” on a situation that really doesn’t need adult attention. This week’s Busy Blog will go over how to tell the difference between when a child is telling and when they are tattling, as well as simple instructions for how to help children distinguish the two as well.

“Telling” for a child is more or less when something bad or dangerous has happened and the child needs help from an adult. It can also cover situations in which another child is doing something unsafe. For example, a child could tell their teacher that their friend has stacked chairs on top of each other to reach something on a high shelf. The child telling may not necessarily want the other child to get into trouble, but is concerned the other child will get hurt if they continue to do what they are doing. In this situation, a teacher’s intervention is a good idea. The problems a child “tells” an adult about are usually important/urgent and should be treated seriously.

“Tattling” for a child is when a child is trying to bring something to an adult’s attention that may seem wrong to them, but isn’t in actuality. It can also be when a child is trying to get another child in trouble. Usually when a child tattles it is not a serious situation and the child can solve the problem on its own. An example of when a child is tattling is when they think one of their friends has been playing with a toy for too long and they want a turn at the toy, so they tell the teacher that their friend has had the toy for too long and it is their turn. In an ideal world, the child would be able to solve the problem on his or her own rather than getting the teacher involved. Tattling is really not about things that are important or detrimental to the safety of the child or others.

It can be hard enough as adults to understand when a child is telling or tattling, and it is even harder for children to know when they are doing the right thing by telling or simply wanting attention or trying to stir the pot by tattling. A few ways to help your child distinguish between the two are:

  • Explain the difference. Even though it seems like it may be difficult for your child to grasp, you may be surprised at what they can retain.
  • Give them rewards for telling. The right thing should be rewarded, and it will help children recognize when to tell.
  • Talk to them when they tattle. Try to explain why what they are tattling about isn’t a big deal, or how it might not be as bad of a situation as they think it is.
  • Give them a few ideas on how to solve the problem themselves. This doesn’t count as you directly interfering in the problem, but allows you to help your child from afar to start being able to think critically and solve their own problems.

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