My Daughter Is A Tattle Tale

Dear Sara,

My five year old daughter has become a terrible tattle tale. We live in a neighborhood with lots of children and she tattles to me and to the other kids parents. The other kids are becoming wary of playing with her. I’ve told her to stop doing this, but she keeps doing it. What can I do to make her stop?

Dear Jan,

Your daughter must get some kind of reward for this behavior, probably attention. Hopefully you can get rid of the behavior before she starts school because she certainly will have problems with the kids at school if she continues.

One way to extinguish the behavior would be to ignore it. Give the least amount of attention to this behavior that you can. Try to talk to the other mother in your neighborhood to see if they would cooperate with you and try to ignore her tattling as well.

Try to give her your attention in other ways. Pay attention when she talks to you about other things and engage her in a little conversation. Plan for some time every day that you can do something together like read or cook. For some reason or other she needs more attention that she’s getting.


  1. Danielle says:

    I have a 7yo girl and a 3yo boy, and I’m a second mom-away-from-home for a 7yo boy and a 9yo boy. One of my biggest pet peeves, second only to lying, is tattleing. But I don’t have to much of a problem with it with these four.
    The first thing is to make sure your daughter knows the difference between a tattle and a tell. If you are tattleing, then you are telling an adult just to get the other person in trouble. If you are telling, it’s because someone could get hurt. If she says “mom, so-and-so is running in the street!” Or “they won’t leave that mean dog alone!” That’s telling, because the activities they are doing could get them very much hurt. But “she won’t let me play with her doll” and “he called me a brat!” Are everyday occurrences that everybody has to learn to deal with, and the only reason to tell a parent is to get the other person in trouble, eg. Tattleing.
    After I make sure the children are aware of that difference, I explain what they should do besides getting an adult. Even if the other kids are being unsafe, it’s always best to say something to them first. For example, (addressing my child)” if you see kids who are being unsafe, maybe playing in the street, you could say ‘hey, we aren’t supposed to be in the street, let’s move the game back into the yard.’. if they won’t listen, the most important thing is that you get yourself out of the street. Then you can’t get in trouble with them. after you try and get them to be safe, and they won’t, then you can get an adult involved. But if you see the other kids doing something you don’t like, maybe hogging all of a treat you want, or hiding from you, you have to figure that one out on your own. You can ask for help, if you don’t know what to do, but not by tattleing.”
    The next part of curbing tattling is to make it clear that 1)it won’t work, 2)they will have consequences for tattling and 3)it isn’t necessary because you have things under control, as is your job. If my kids decide to engage in tattleing, I do everything I can to make sure it backfires on them. “He took my toy!” Turns into mom gets the toy, end of story. “He is being mean!” Means they both can sit down, facing each other, untill they come up with three nice things to say to each other. I try to make the consequences make sense, and happen immediately without causing to much disruption to the day. But sometimes it’s not ideal, and for those times when I I just don’t have time or patience to come up with the perfect consequence, it’s still effective to just have them ‘stand on the wall’, though I make sure that they know why by asking them, and correcting them if needed. Child 1 is on is on the wall because of the undesirable behavior, child child 2 is on the wall for tattling. Finally, with my daughter, I’ve found that she often thinks she needs to tattle because I am not aware of don’t know what’s going on. I have found it necessary to explain to her that I am the mom, and I am in charge, and I will do something about the things that need to be corrected. It’s not up to her what I do or do not do, and it’s not her decision who gets in trouble for what. I explained to her that playing with other kids is not easy, and that she has to learn how to find conflict resolution, and problemsoling, and the best way she can do that is by doing it. she knows that if she has a problem, I will not fix it for her. I will offer advice, but it’s up to her to use her brain and figure it out. I’ve also reasured her that if things get out of hand, I am here and I will get involved IF and WHEN I deem it nessisary. And I’ve also explained that, when kids do something they aren’t supposed to, like taking the last cookie without permission, just because they eat the whole cookie doesn’t mean they ‘got away with it’ if no adult sees them do it. Because adults have their ways (like looking in the cookie jar) of finding things out, and while you may not see how the other kid will be caught, they will be, and soon.
    One difficult scene I’ve come across is when I find out something and don’t know which child it was. For example, someone wrote on the wall with a marker. I have a solution to this one as well, though it can be disruptive to a busy day. Fortunately, it can be put off untill later.
    Say I find the scribbled wall right before lunch. I don’t know when it happened, other than it wasn’t there yesterday. Since it’s lunch time and I’ve got all 4 kids food ready, I would put it off until after lunch. Once lunch is over, I tell them all to remain in their seats. Then I would address them all with the problem.
    “I found marker on my wall, and someone is going to tell me they did it, or you are all going to be in trouble for it. I don’t want to hear anybody say someone else did it, one of you is going to tell me they did it themselves.” Of course, this is usually received in silence at first, or exclamations of “it wasn’t me!”. At this point I’ve usually figured out the culprit, but I don’t let on that I know. My next step is to say:
    “If nobody wants to admit to it, then you are all going to have a consequence. You will all have to(insert consequence).”. Typically, this is not received well. Oh, one important thing, during this process, any attempt to tattle should be ignored and quickly discouraged with a reminder that tattling is a good way to get in trouble. The next part is where I finally see someone take some responsibility. I tell them “I’m going to give you all the chance to figure this out. I’m going to go clean up the kitchen, that gives you about ten minutes to decide what you are going to do. Do not leave your seats, keep your voices down, and do not argue. I don’t want to hear any of you, at all, untill I come back.” And I go out of the room. I stay close enough to monitor them, but I let them talk and figure it out. After the allotted time, I return and ask once more who wrote on my wall. 9 out of 10 times, I get a reluctant ‘i did it’ from one of them. I always praise the child for being honest, explain that it’s important to admit when you do something wrong, even if you get in trouble, and I make sure the consequence is appropriate, scribbling on the wall means you get to spend the next little while scrubbing the wall while everyone else plays. Then, I thank them for their honesty, their hard work in correcting their mistake, remind them that even if Im mad at them, I still love them, give them a hug and send them off to play.
    Don’t get me wrong, this is far from the perfect solution. My kids do still try to tattle, but they are very discouraged when they find themselves faced with the same punishment they thought the other child would get. My son is often hot on the heels of the would-be tattle-tale, reminding them that they will not be able to play with him, they will get in trouble too, because he doesnt want to have to play by himself (he’s the only one not yet in school and he cherished his friends company when he gets it). Often, when one of them comes running up and I know before they say “mooo-ooom!” In that certain tone of voice, I will cut them off by reminding them “if you are about to tattle, then you may as well not do it and put your nose on the wall right now.”. Typically, they walk away without speaking.
    Children are quite brilliant, though, and my daughter has come up with another work around that I am yet to counter effectively. Instead if tattling outright, she finds ways to make the other child ‘get caught.’. typically this is just a very loud “stop snatching things from me!” Or some other behavior intended to get the attention of an adult. I try to ignore it, or remind her that yelling isn’t allowed, and let her know that that behavior is the same thing as tattling, and I know what she is doing.
    I hope this is helpful, no one likes a tattle tale and I’d hate for your daughter to go through what I went through in school. I was a terrible knark, being the youngest of 4 by 5 years, but I realize now that I never knew the difference between tattleing and telling, so whenever I was told to quit tattling it just went in one ear and out the other. Although that could have been the ADHD, and my attention span being about as long as a goldfish’s.
    Best of luck,
    Danielle from seattle

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