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Dealing with Tattling

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What To Do When Dealing With A Tattle Tale

"My daughter is 9 years old and in the 3rd grade. She has a big problem with tattling on others in her classroom. She will tattle on just about everything anyone does. She also does the same at home. I have tried everything grounding, endless conversations, every consequence that I can think of and nothing seems to help. Is there anything I can do to put an end to the endless tattles?"
– Jessie (Ohio)

Do you have trouble with a tattler like Jessie does? Here are my thoughts on the subject.

Understanding Tattling
As always, the first step in an Adlerian approach is to determine the purpose or usefulness of the behaviour in question, so we have to ask ourselves, "How does a child gain or benefit from tattling?"

Tattling "gets others in trouble" and in doing so, the tattler feels their status and prestige is being elevated over the other child, especially in the eyes of the person they take their tattling to (parent or teacher).

Often it works! No doubt the person who they tattle on does get reprimanded, so the tattler looks good, and the other child looks bad.

High standards, over ambition and an overemphasis on competition can create an environment that could lead a child to develop a belief that to be worthwhile and loved they must be first and best. They develop a competitive rather than a co-operative approach to life.

Often first-born children who tend to be more rule-bound perfectionists like to tattle on younger siblings, or notice every rule-breaking mistake of a classmate.

Solving Tattling

Step One – Make the behaviour "un-useful". Children will keep those behaviours that serve their purposes and abandon those that don’t. That means parents and teachers need to respond differently to it so the child does not reach their goal of "looking good over another".

For example, if a child says "Dylan didn’t put his dishes in the sink", instead of saying "Dylan, get back in there and clear your dishes!", try saying "If you’re concerned about Dylan’s dishes you should speak to Dylan, not me" or "sounds like you have something to say to Dylan, not me", or even "Dylan’s plates are not your concern."

Step Two – Eliminate discouragement. This is the root cause of all misbehaviours, tattling included. Discouraged children are driven to overcome feelings of inferiority and in doing so they overdo it and seek status and superiority over others. It’s kind of like having a "Napoleon complex". People who come off looking all big and full of themselves are actually people who feel the reverse. They feel small and inferior.

To eliminate discouragement you must learn the fine art of encouragement, the most important parenting skill there is.

"A child needs encouragement as a plant needs water"
– Dr Rudolph Dreikurs

Encouragement is a basic human need. People need to feel valued by themselves and others. Encouragement is the act of focusing upon strengths and assets as opposed to focusing on liabilities. Encouragement is an attitude of accepting one just as they are right now and is not based on behaviour or performance, or some future state they may achieve.

Find ways to express in words, thought, or deed to your child this idea:

"Right now, as you are, with all your human flaws, you are loved, valued, and accepted. I believe in you and have faith that you can handle the challenges of life."

While this may be a new idea and skill, I can’t stress enough the actual VOLUME of encouragement that parents can and should outpour. One comment a day is not going to cut it. It is a new attitude, a new way of thinking about and responding to our children.

This is a re-orientation towards living in "equal" or "level" relationships whereby no one is better than another. Why is this so important? Because co-operation is predicated on one’s feeling of equality.


Encouragement calls for noticing improvement and effort rather than noticing perfection and completion. It means saying "You worked hard this term" instead of "you got straight A’s this term!"

Notice your child’s helpfulness and contribution rather than "outdoing" others or selfish pursuits of excelling over others ("I appreciated your willingness to watch this TV show even though it wasn’t your pick").

Notice other talents besides performance measures, things like acts of empathy, kindness, and caring ("I can see you really care about the value of friendship").

This is a good first step forward and it should squelch the tattling. Good luck!

About Alyson

Alyson has been blogging parenting advice for over 15 years. She has been a panelist at BlogWest, Blissdom, #140NYC and more. Her content appears on sites across Canada and the US, but you can read all her own blog posts right here.

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