Tattling :: Review
"A gossip is one who will never tell a lie if the truth will do
as much harm."
When children tattle, they are really engaging in a childish form of gossip. I once heard a gossip defined as a person who never tells a lie if the truth will do as much harm. And that's what tattling is: truth designed to bring harm to someone. Tattlers almost always tell the truth, and are virtually always out to do harm.
A tattler is seldom, if ever, the source of useful information, information that can be used to prevent trouble or solve problems. Rather, a tattler is intent on causing problems and making trouble.
This being true, tattling is a behavior that should certainly not be given credibility. Here are some things you can do to discourage and even eliminate tattling.
First, if a child comes to you tattling on someone, say simply, calmly, but directly, something like this: "I don't like it when you talk like that. I expect you to never talk like that again. Billy, the next time you feel like saying things like that, what are you going to do?"
Then wait for an answer. The answer should be something like, "I'm not going to do it. I'm just not going to say anything."
If necessary, continue the questioning until you get the answer you want. When you do get the acceptable answer, say:
"That's correct, Billy. Thank you. Good answer. That's exactly what I expect. You just aren't going to do it. You aren't going to say anything. I'm really proud of you for that!"
Your response should (a) show approval of the correct answer, (b) repeat what the child said which reflects your expectations, and (c) let the child know how you feel about him for his correct behavior. This procedure should be followed with every one of your children. By doing this as a group (in instances where there is more than one child) not only is it clear to each child what is expected, but it is clear to all the children what is expected of everyone. Once the expectations are clearly established, and you are certain that everyone understands them, it is time to discuss consequences. Say words to this effect:
"I'm really pleased that you understand what I expect, and I am sure that you will try really hard to control yourself. However, if you make a mistake and say things like that, I will say to you, `Do not tell me that. I do not want to hear it. Because you lost control of yourself, you have lost the privilege of riding your bike for one day."'
Ask the children to repeat back to you what will happen if they lose control. Emphasize that it is their loss of control that deprives them of valuable privileges. During this role playing, get the bike and put a lock on it to show them you mean business; this is no idle threat! Once the point has been made dramatically and illustratively, say:
"Now that you understand what to expect if you lose control, I am especially happy to tell you that if you control yourself the privilege of using your bike will be yours."
At that moment unlock the bike before the child's eyes and let him ride away. Call him back, give him a hug and say:
"That's great. I love to see you having so much fun. Life is really great when we control ourselves."
As with behavior generally, children tend to behave appropriately when they understand what is expected of them and when they are aware of the consequences for appropriate and inappropriate behavior.
Tattling is an unacceptable, juvenile behavior that has no socially redeeming qualities to it, and should not be confused with "whistle-blowing." Unlike tattling which is invariably aimed at simply getting someone in trouble, or diverting blame away from one's self, responsible whistle-blowing aims at correcting problems: malpractice, waste, potential harm to others, harassment, and so on. Whistle-blowing is intent on serving the common good and is a socially appropriate way of behaving - though, as we have observed time and again - a very risky way to behave.
For a child to complain to his mother, "Amy is in your jewelry box again!" the intent being to get Amy into trouble rather than to protect mother's jewelry, is a far cry from a responsible employee in business or industry making it known to the proper authorities that billions of taxpayer dollars are being wasted or that dangerous products are being put into the hands of consumers.
Tattling :: Review
Now To Review
- Tattling is intended to do harm to someone. It is typically not a source of useful information.
- When children tattle, parents need to put that behavior on extinction, then teach and reinforce appropriate behavior.
- Tattling should not be confused with whistle-blowing, which is a socially approved way of behaving in behalf of the common good.