Encouraging Our Kids to Tattle


tattling and kids

Featured Contributor: Teri Newburn

“Go see what your sister is doing!”  I love to send my 3-year old son running through the house to track down his crawling, mischievous 11-month old sister.  Is she playing with the toilet brush?  Is she pulling apart my cell phone? Is she climbing into the dryer?  (If she sees me, she’ll cry and want to be picked up, so I prefer to send my son.)  I ask him to “tattle” at least once a day.

In a couple of years, I won’t have to ask anymore.  I’ll probably get constant reports, “She hit me!” or “He took my toy!”  I know I’ll get tired of hearing it, and I will find myself saying, “Don’t be a tattle-tale!”  But when that season passes, and the “don’t tattle” message has been well-learned, I might find myself begging for a report again, “Do his friends do drugs?” … “Does she eat her lunch or just throw it away?”

One of my greatest desires as a mother is to have an open line of communication with my children.  When I think of them growing past this sleepless, diaper-changing stage, I hope that they will want to talk to me about their friends, their desires, their hopes and dreams.  I want them to tell me everything… but as a high school teacher, I know the reality: many teenagers choose not to communicate with their parents.

By teaching my children not to tattle, would I be teaching them not to communicate with me?

If they internalize the “don’t be a tattle-tale” message as young children, will they choose not to tattle when their best friend threatens to commit suicide?

In some cases, tattling could be the only hope to save a life or break a dangerous addiction!  When they get a job, and they see a fellow employee stealing merchandise, tattling is the right thing to do.  If my baby girl started climbing up the balcony railing on our porch, I would hope that my son would tattle loud and clear.

This is my goal: I want to take the negative connotation of “tattle” out of my vocabulary.  As my children grow into the “tattling” phase, I want to listen and assess.  “Did you tell your sister you don’t like that behavior? Did you ask her to stop? How can you solve this together?”   Or maybe I will say, “Thank you for sharing this with me.  Is this something that you can solve together without my help?”  In the “dangerous” situations, I’m already training my son to tell me immediately.  These days, I want to know when my daughter wanders into the bathroom or climbs up on a stool.   I will teach my children when it’s appropriate and necessary to tattle.  “Is someone touching you inappropriately?  Tattle.  Will someone get hurt? Tattle.  Are you involved in a petty disagreement? Work it out yourself.  Is someone breaking the law? Tattle.”

When my tantrum-throwing toddlers have grown into moody teenagers, I want them to tattle.  What are their friends doing? What are their teachers saying in class?  What do they see on Facebook?  Tattling may be a lifeline of communication for someone in trouble, and I want to be there to hear each story.  I will have to investigate to determine whether the stories are true, but it’s worth listening to whatever my children want to tell me.  Yes, I think I will encourage my children to tattle.

What are your thoughts on tattling?

For a more in-depth look at the tattling issue, this is also a great article here.

Teri Newburn loves to explain math to anyone who will listen.  Recently, she happily traded her teaching career for a child-raising career, but  she still talks about math whenever she has the chance.

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One Response to “Encouraging Our Kids to Tattle”

  1. Beth Saav
    June 15, 2013 at 6:47 am #

    Good article, Teri! It’s so important to teach our kids to think critically and to keep the communication lines open.

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