Tattling vs. Reporting: Taking Control of (and Empowering) Our Littlest Eyewitnesses

Happy Friday, RMT’ers! I’m back with another helpful hint from Practical Parent Talk’s (PPT’s) Kathy Salazar! Last Friday I began her six-week seminar with my parenting group entitled, “The Language of Response-Able Parenting.” As I mentioned previously, I’ll check in periodically with a helpful hint hand-picked by Kathy from each of those sessions.

“Mom, little Danny took my toy!”

“Dad, she won’t let me use my favorite crayon!”

“Hey, he’s cheating! It was my turn!”

Ah, tattling… will it ever end? The good news is yes, yes it will, and you and your child(ren) can start putting a stop to it by working together, says Kathy Salazar of Practical Parent Talk (PPT).

Tattling by kids is a show of power; kids want to feel like they are “in the know” of any situation, however minor or major, and they exert control over those situations by talking about them. And not just talking about them to anyone, but they talk to another person in charge, so-to-speak (parent, teacher, any adult nearby really!).

Of course, there are many types of situations in which we absolutely want our kids to talk to us about, namely those which are dangerous or harmful to themselves and/or those around them. This is where the lines become blurred to those young minds and much of this truly gets confusing. On the one hand, kids are told by us not to tattle; on the other hand, we insist that they tell us if something harmful or dangerous is happening to them or someone else. But to them, ALL of it is harmful and dangerous; getting that favorite crayon sometimes can be the end-all, be-all for their day, didn’t you know?!

I prefer to think of it this way: Our kids are the reporters and we parents, teachers, etc. are the editors in charge of the daily news feed. It’s up to us to decide which of our kids’ “reports” qualifies as newsworthy or not. Oh, let me clarify that: Newsworthy TO US. In turn, it’s also up to us to let our kids know which reports are newsworthy TO OTHERS. In most cases of true tattling, the reports are newsworthy to someone else (i.e., that friend who took their beloved crayon).

Salazar’s view is that if we start to look at tattling simply as reporting, it takes some (most) of the annoyance out of the situation. As a­ result, we parents can better and more calmly handle the news coming at us, either by redirecting their news to the appropriate audience, or accepting it as newsworthy (i.e., an actual emergency) and offering and giving them the help and guidance they require.

Eliminating these behaviors sounds dreamy, doesn't it, RMT'ers? Make dreams a reality and sign up for Practical Parent Talk with Kathy Salazar! Oh, and remember to take on one behavior at a time.

Eliminating these behaviors sounds dreamy, doesn’t it, RMT’ers? Make those dreams a reality and sign up for Practical Parent Talk with Kathy Salazar! Oh, and remember to take on one behavior at a time.

To illustrate, Salazar provides the following statements that a parent can use to teach children about tattling. For example’s sake, let’s continue with the crayon crisis.

“Danielle, that’s reporting a non-serious situation to an adult. That does not work because it doesn’t help the situation. What helps is to tell your friend directly how what they’re doing can affect them (or how it impacts you, us or our family) and what you think they should do instead.  Now, if there is a seriously hurtful or emergency situation, it’s important that you to tell an adult right away so that adults can help everyone in the best way. Do you understand?”

In addition to the above language, it is suggested that parents have occasional discussions with children about what constitutes seriously hurtful or emergency situations. This helps define the “newsworthiness” and appropriate audience that I mentioned earlier.

Salazar also provides this simpler, alternative language you can use once your child has a better understanding on how you’ve defined emergencies:

“Danielle, that’s telling the wrong person. Telling me won’t help you get a turn because the person who needs to hear that you want a turn is your sister. What works best here is to tell Maribeth, ‘I would like a turn with the purple crayon soon.’”

RMT’ers, are you still seeking simple, gentle discipline methods to help tame the tattlers in your family? If so, you can sign up for your own PPT class or full series with Kathy Salazar here.