Is It Tattling or Telling?

What is Tattling?

Tattling is when a child informs someone of the actions of another child in order to get that individual in trouble. Usually the situation involves something that has happened by accident or something harmless done intentionally. The event is unimportant and the problem can be solved by those involved.

For example, children in a kindergarten classroom have been asked to colour a picture of an apple red. One child decides to colour hers purple. The boy sitting next to her tells the teacher that she has coloured her apple purple and not red like she was asked. In the grand scheme of apple-colouring, choosing a different colour is unimportant and harmless.

What is Telling?

Telling occurs when a child informs someone of a situation involving another child that has to do with safety. Typically whatever behaviour the other child exhibits is on purpose and may be dangerous or harmful. These situations are important and the child telling feels that they need help from an adult.

Consider the above example. The children are colouring pictures of their apples and the little girl decides to see how far into her ear she can stick a crayon. The little boy beside her raises his hand and points this out to the teacher. If she succeeded in her efforts, it could cause damage to her inner ear. The situation is a matter of physical safety.

Why is it Important to Know the Difference?

When children are constantly accused of tattling, especially when the situation is important or harmful, they may feel reluctant to talk to adults in fear of this accusation. Knowing the different as parents is important so we can teach our children what the difference is too. This will help them to develop the confidence in knowing when to speak up and when it is not necessary.

How to Encourage Telling and Avoid Tattling

If you think about instances of tattling, you think of that child who immediately raises the alarm in front of everybody in order to draw attention to another child’s behaviour.

“Miss Smith! Little Jimmy is looking at me!”

If you teach your children to approach adults in private with their concerns, this will give them the time to process the information they want to share and determine whether it is important or unimportant. They should then explain the problem to the adult and discuss a possible solution.

In order to avoid tattling, rules should be established both at home and at school. If you have more than one child, be clear that you only want to know about misbehaviour if:

A. Someone is in danger or could be harmed.

B. Someone is breaking the rules.

C. The situation cannot be resolved between the children.

Why Do Children Tattle?

Children tattle for many reasons. One could be that they are not getting their own way and are trying to use adult intervention as a means to get what they want. Imagine a game of turn taking where one child is losing. He or she may draw attention to the other child’s behaviour in order to tip the scales in their favor.

Some children tattle for praise. Perhaps the boy in the above examples is thanked by the teacher for pointing out his classmates purple apple. This may encourage that boy to continue pointing out irrelevant behaviours in order to obtain that approval.

Overall, children usually tattle just for the attention – whether it is positive or negative. They may not even care about the satisfaction of getting another child in trouble and may simply seek the attention of the adult. In these situations, it is best to just inform the child that the behaviour is not important and continue on with the task.

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