4 Moms: teaching kids the difference between telling and tattling

Hello, hello! It’s time for another 4 Moms post.  Are you ready?  This one may seem obvious to you, or it may be one of those burning questions that have plagued you since your toddler uttered those first words of complaint against baby sister.  Can you explain the difference between telling Mom something she needs to know, and plain ole’ tattling?

Sometimes it’s clear, but more often the line is murky and the water clouded by questionable motives.  Occasionally the two can be the same.  I believe the bottom line is that it’s a heart issue.

A child who is telling for the sole or primary purpose of getting someone in trouble is tattling, whether or not she is reporting an actual infraction and regardless of how serious the infraction may be.

When I am approached by a potential tattler, my response is nearly always, “Is she sinning?  Did you talk to her about this first? Did you remind her to obey the rules?”   In case you didn’t notice, all of these questions are closely related, and could almost be considered a single question.  If I’m not satisfied with the answer, I might follow with,  “Are you trying to help her stay out of trouble, or get her into trouble?”

Unless there is an immediate threat of death or destruction, children need to start by exhorting one another to obedience to authority.  Even if the infraction still gets reported, it is looked at differently if the perpetrator was doing something and stopped when reminded that it was not allowed or not a good idea.

Even in the case of dangerous or destructive behavior, it’s usually faster and better for them to start by exhorting each other to stop, then to quickly report to an adult.  In this case, we are asking them to make a judgment call, so if they make a poor call they’re not automatically in trouble.  They might, however, get a little instruction and advice for how to handle the next incident.

If the teller did address the matter privately before coming to me and the offense continued, the offender now has even more to answer for: not only did she break the rules, but she refused the wise counsel of a bystander.  She broke the rules knowingly and willfully.  This is serious business.

The way this looks in practice can change from day to day, child to child, and offense to offense, but the principle stays the same.  The principle we’re trying to teach is that they need to act in the best interest of their sibling – just another way of loving our neighbor, as Christ commanded us.

Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.  ~Galatians 6:1

How do you define tattling?  How do you teach your children the difference?

from the other Moms:

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  1. My policy, when I was a teacher, was to always assume/pretend the tattler was asking me for advice. “Oh, X is doing Y? Does that worry you? Does it make you upset? I suggest you play on your own for awhile/play with someone else. Oh, you want to know what’s happening to X? That’s between me and X, not me and you.” For a roomful of 6-8 year olds, that worked really well. Mostly they really were just upset and wanting some help. If they did want to see someone get in trouble, they never got it because I would always address the issue privately in a way the tattler wouldn’t see. As a result I had very little tattling because everyone knew it wouldn’t work.

    As far as managing it with my own kids, I’m not there yet. My oldest hasn’t hit that stage yet.

  2. I was reading your blog about telling vs tattling and liked your line of questioning. I was trying to think of a way to help ME remember the questions. Here is what I came up with:

    S – Sinning : Are they Sinning?
    T – Talk : Did you Talk to them about this first?
    O – Obey : Did you remind them to Obey the rules?
    P – Prevent : Are you trying to Prevent them from getting into trouble or are you trying to get them into trouble?

    I just thought I would share this.

  3. This is profound! I love observing siblings interact in a family where the younger children respect the older children as their elders, and therefore wiser. It is a beautiful thing.

Don't just think it: say it!

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