How to Create a Tattletale

My son W has a best friend. We’ll call him E. E and W play one to two times a week together. E’s mom and I trade off watching the other’s children, so the boys see each other a lot. Because they are 4, they are at an age where they don’t need a lot of supervision – just checking in now and then and listening for screams. But, there’s one thing that drives me crazy when E is at our house. He tattles. A lot.

Most parents tell their kids not to tattle, but then they reward tattling by getting involved in the situation. I’ve realized that my son, though he has other faults, does not tattle.  The reason, as far as I can see, is that I don’t punish. When something happens, and someone does something “wrong,” I (usually) problem-solve. This gives the kids a model for how to deal with their own problems, instead of having to bring in an adult to solve the problem for them. Let me give you a couple of examples.

Sharing is always hard, and is often an area that parents come in to referee, hand out a solution, and force the kids to abide by it. So, when E wants a toy that W is playing with, and W says “NO!”, E comes to me and says, “He’s not sharing.” He is used to having the adult in his life jump in, and make the other child share. But, that’s not what I do. Instead, I walk them through a problem solving process:

“Hmm, there’s one toy that two boys want to play with. How can we solve that problem?” If they don’t come up with ideas, I offer some. “Is there a way to play with it together?” “Is there another toy that E can play with while W plays with this one?” Once I say a couple of things, they often jump in with their own ideas. Usually, it’s that W will give E the toy once he’s done. It’s actually a very quick process at this point.

Another situation is when someone gets hurt. I have noticed that when a child starts crying (usually a little sister), and I walk in the room, E’s first reaction is “W did it!”  Most parents begin by trying to figure out who hurt the crying child. They start by asking who’s to blame and then punishing that person. Instead, I say, “I’m not here for you boys, I’m here to help the baby. She’s sad so I’m going to help her feel better.” Then I proceed to comfort the crying child. Then, once she’s okay, I ask “What made D sad?”  The question is centered around the hurt child, not around who did the hurting. Often, the truth comes out quickly because I am not asking angrily nor will the person who hurt the baby get “in trouble.” In fact, we tell friends who visit our house that no one gets in trouble here. Instead, we solve problems.

Once we find out what happens, I guide the child who did the deed through a process of restitution. First, what did they want that led to the bad decision? Was the baby grabbing his toy and he pushed her? So, what could he have done instead? What kind words could he have said? How could he have solved that problem with kind hands? Perhaps finding another similar toy for her to play with? Now that we have that figured out (and, perhaps we practice saying or doing that thing), then it’s his job to restore the relationship. Or, as we say, “Fix things.” And, how he does that is up to him. Perhaps he says “sorry.” Perhaps he gives her a hug or a kiss. Perhaps he gives her a toy. Then, I point out how happy that action made her, and I tell him how much I love him. The end. No time outs. No spankings. No resentment. Just modeling problem solving and restoring a broken relationship.

If you’d prefer to have a tattle tale, don’t do these things. Instead, blame children for acting like children, punish the wrong-doer, and jump in to solve all of your child’s problems for him. It might be easier in the short run, but you are paving a road that will lead to years of tattling. Because until kids know how to solve problems, they will ALWAYS need you to do it for them. We can’t expect kids to not tattle if we also don’t help them how to work it out on their own.

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3 Comments on "How to Create a Tattletale"

  1. Linni
    29/01/2013 at 11:41 am Permalink

    Interesting post. I was especially taken by the way you deal with arguments between kids, as that’s always something I struggle with. It’s a minefield at play centres and suchlike. My daughter is two and a half and seems intent on getting into arguments with every kid she meets. I always try to deal with it peacefully, but this has given me something more to work on. Thank you.

  2. Cassi
    29/01/2013 at 3:45 pm Permalink


    Children learning about relationships can be so hard, and something most of us are completely unprepared for. We just have to remember that they are still learning, and the only way that happens is to make mistakes. Every conflict is an opportunity. I’m glad you are using peaceful parenting, and I hope some of these ideas will help. I have a few posts in the next week about parenting. Also, Dr. Laura Markham at is my go-to resource for all positive parenting questions.

    I want to share a little story from the other day:

    W is really into trains and train tracks, and had one all set up on our train table. His little sister D wanted to play, and started touching the track. She didn’t hurt anything, just touched it. He got upset and pushed her. I happened to be right there, and said, “D touched your track and you didn’t want her to, so you pushed her. But, we don’t push, we use kind hands. What could you do instead?” My solution would have been to say, “Please don’t touch” or to offer her a different toy that was lying on the ground. But, W came up with his own idea: make her a train track of her own. So, that’s that we did. We made a big track on the ground for her, right next to the train table. He was so excited to make something for her, and it solved his problem of not wanting her to mess up his track. All this because I didn’t step in and hand down my own solution. Also, making the track for her became his way to apologize and fix things with his sister. Win, win!

  3. Linni
    01/02/2013 at 6:55 pm Permalink

    Yeh that’s pretty much the sort of thing I try to do (when I’m in the right frame of mind), though on a simpler level as my daughter doesn’t have the language tools to be able to make a suggestion like that just yet. I think you make a good point about letting them make the suggestion rather than doing it for them though. I’ll definitely bear that in mind for the near future. Thanks.

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