I'm Telling!: Why Telling Doesn't Always Mean You're a Tattletale
“Ms. Brown, Johnny took my snack!” “Mom, my sister’s hitting me!” “Carol’s copying my homework.” The list of complaints may seem endless and the situations varied, yet these, and scores of others share a common ingredient, in which one child reports a disagreement with another to an adult. Parents, educators, and peers may be quick to label the storyteller: ‘Tattletale.’ Are we being too hasty? Is this the right approach? And is “telling” always the wrong thing for a child to do, or are there instances when it can be a child’s way of reaching out for help?
No one likes tattletales, but few really understand them. The popular view is that a child tattles either because she is eager to get attention or to get another child in trouble. The truth, however, is that a child who tattles often doesn’t have the social skills needed to get along with others easily. Development experts agree that if a child had the skills necessary to know when to tell and when not to, he would use them.
Here are the most common reasons why a child may feel the need to come to you to solve seemingly simple problems:
- Your child tried to solve a problem but isn’t having success getting what he wants or needs.
- Your child is afraid of getting hurt or controlled by another child.
- Your child has limited ability to navigate the complexities of friendship.
- Your child sees that others are not following the rules and wants to know that they apply to everyone.
Since adults sometimes give mixed messages about telling and not telling, your child may tattle because it is difficult to distinguish those situations in which to involve an adult and those situations in which she should go it alone. Often your child’s need to enlist the help of an adult is legitimate and should be complimented instead of labeled tattling. When to tell and when not to tell can be complicated. That is why it is so important to recognize the need for active social coaching. A child can learn independent strategies for problem solving, but it takes an active approach.
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