When your child learns to talk, it's so exciting -- that is, until he discovers tattling. Then you might wonder what you were thinking, teaching him so many words. Tattling seems to be part of every child's DNA, as though he was, in fact, born to rat out his sister, brother or similarly-aged playmates, for failing to share and other minor offenses.
While tattling is frustrating for parents, you can curb this behavior by teaching your preschooler the differences between "tattling" and "reporting." On the role modeling information site "Kelly Bear," Leah Davies, M.Ed., notes that children tattle for several reasons, such as getting attention, establishing the upper hand over a peer or gaining a feel for acceptable behavior. Learning to tell an adult about peer conflicts only when someone is injured or otherwise in danger not only minimizes parent headaches, but helps to keep children safe. Preschoolers might not fully grasp the nuances of tattling and reporting; however, they can begin learning the difference through activities geared toward their age group.
Davies suggests that basic role-playing exercises with your child will teach her how to tell the difference between tattling and reporting. Choose a moment when your preschooler is calm, rather than in the throes of a conflict with another child. Ask her to imagine a few situations with her playmate, such as having her toy stolen or seeing the friend wandering off the sidewalk and into the street. Follow up with basic questions for each scenario, like "Would you tell me about [given scenario] to get your friend in trouble?" or "Is your friend hurt or in danger?" Explain that tattling gets a playmate into trouble, but reporting gets a playmate out of trouble.
The learning guide "I'm Telling! A Tattler's Tale" from Sunburst Communications proposes creating a picture collage to show aspects of tattling. Look through magazines with your preschooler and assist him in cutting out pictures that tell all about tattling -- the act of tattling, the results of tattling, the feelings of tattling or even a situation that might lead to tattling. Arrange and paste these cutouts into a larger picture and display on your refrigerator or bulletin board.
In "A Bad Case of Tattle Tongue," writer and counselor Julia Cook suggests having children paint "reminder rocks." First, talk with your preschooler about how tattling or not tattling makes her feel, such as sad, angry or happy. Together, pick a color to represent that feeling. Paint a small rock that color and when dry, glue googly eyes to the rock. Have the child keep the rock with her in a pocket or near her playing area to help her remember not to tattle. Talk about the rock together periodically to reinforce its no-tattling message.
Drawing Relevant Emotions
Children can also learn to stop tattling through drawing pictures. Talk to your preschooler about what it means to tattle and ask him how he would feel after tattling. Have him think, too, about how his siblings or playmates would feel if he tattled on them, or vice versa. Provide crayons and paper and ask him to draw a picture of those emotions. Ask him to tell you about his pictures when he is done to encourage a deeper understanding of tattling and its emotional outcome.