“Mama, Sally hit me!” “Daddy, Billy took my dolly!” If you have more than one child, you’ve probably heard a similar barrage of complaints and tattling. How to stop a tattle tale may be a topic you’d like to learn more about.

Children five to ten years old are often the most active tattlers. You were probably taught not to tell on others as a child and have probably tried to teach your own children. Still they tell on one another and even seem to derive some odd pleasure from doing so.

It is important to note there actually is a time and place for tattling. If one of your children sees the other playing with matches or something else which could cause them harm, it is appropriate for your child to tell on them. Telling on someone who has touched them in an inappropriate manner is also wise. Explain it’s alright to tell an adult if someone will be hurt by not telling. Think of other reasons why it would be alright for a child to tattle on someone and be sure to explain why it is okay in those circumstances.

Most tattling, however, has nothing to do with someone possibly getting hurt. Some children tattle as a way to get attention. They may honestly think you don’t know what’s going on and hope they’re providing you with inside knowledge. They may also hope to get some type of reward for squealing. Others have a sense of superiority when telling on another.

In some cases the children may be testing the validity of rules you make. If you’ve told your children they’re not allowed to eat a cookie before dinner and one of them disregards that rule, they want to know if the rule still stands even though they weren’t caught. They are trying to distinguish between hard and fast rules, guidelines and suggestions. By tattling they are learning limits and consequences.

Here are some suggestions you can follow when dealing with a tattle tale:

  • Let them say what they have to say. You may not necessarily want to hear that Sally didn’t fold her clothes before putting them away, but they feel a need to say it.
  • Ask them what their motives are for tattling. Are they trying to get their sibling into trouble or out of danger? Once you know the answer to that question, you can better determine your next course of action.
  • Determine if there is a possibility of injury or threat to another person. Could they hurt themselves or others or did they already get hurt?
  • Decide what to do about what you’ve heard. If there is potential danger, take the necessary action. If it’s not something to be concerned about, thank them for letting you know and that you will address the matter as you see fit.
  • Explain to your child that tattling could mean their sibling gets mad at them or they could lose a friend because of it. Let them decide if the information they feel they have to tell you is worth that cost.

Children are going to tattle from time to time. In general, tattling is a phase children go through. You can expect them to continue tattling for about a year, maybe longer. Using these ideas, however, you could help your child get through this phase much quicker.