Parenting

How do you tame a tattletale?

Ignore it? Punish them both? Tracy's looking for tips to put an end to the tattling.

Avery has fallen into the habit of tattling.

“Mommy, Anna licked me!”

I could replace that verb with any number of things, and you’ll know what I hear coming out of four-year-old Avery’s mouth throughout the day. Every day.

Unfortunately for her big sister, Avery is a tattletale. Anna can’t get away with anything anymore. Even the smallest slight is reported directly to mom or dad. Anna was never a tattler, and still isn’t. This sounds terrible, but it’s probably because Anna doesn’t have a whole lot to tattle about. Avery, on the other hand, does.

But Avery’s tattling isn’t confined to reporting on her sister’s various infractions. If she has a friend over who steps out of line, Avery has to tell me (in the case of a friend or someone she doesn’t know well, she’ll whisper it to me softly, her eyes wide with concern). It’s not just things done directly to her, it might be that her friend didn’t wash her hands after she went pee or took a second cookie off the plate without asking. (Hopefully not in that order.)

I may have created this monster. And again, I love my first-born to bits, but she does get physical when she doesn’t get her way, no matter what alternative tools we’ve tried to equip her with. Because of that, Avery has tended to bend to Anna’s will. So I’ve encouraged Avery to stand up for herself and to remember that what she wants is important, too. However, because I don’t want Anna to hurt her, I’ve also told her to get help from me if she needs it. That may have spiraled into this.

“Today at school, Emma called me a tattletale,” Avery told me the other day.

Me: “How come?”

Avery: “Because I said I was going to tell on her.”

Me: [Argh.] “What happened before that?”

Avery: “She was sitting on me.”

Me: “Could you have just asked Emma to get off of you?”

Avery: “I did. I asked her three times, but she kept sitting on me, so I told her I was going to tell Mr. J.”

So this is when I have to help her understand that sometimes telling is OK and I think, in this case, it was warranted. I told her that friends don’t like to be tattled on (since she plays with Emma most days), but that she should never be touched (or sat on) when she doesn’t want to be. And since she tried to work it out herself first and couldn’t, she did exactly the right thing. I explained the difference between telling and tattling, as it’s always made sense to me: Are you trying to get help, or are you trying to get someone in trouble?

And it’s not always so black-and-white when you’re four and all you know is that your friend is mad at you. Sometimes life seems incredibly unfair. It’s tough for me too, because although we have swift, no-questions-asked consequences for anything physical in our house, sometimes I just want to say “Oh, Avery, just deal with it!” and that is probably confusing to her too. I do encourage her to go back and work it out, but also don’t want to compromise our rules. Avery’s also a sensitive girl and that plays a part in this. Many times, her feelings are hurt more than anything, and she just wants an apology. She will come to me with the biggest tears, sobbing “But… she… didn’t… say…sorry!”

What’s your go-to strategy for dealing with tattling? Since our comments function is turned off, tweet me @T_Chappell.