A Cure for Tattling: Hear No Evil


My son and daughter, ages eight and five, seem to be having a contest over who can tattle on the other more. I'm at the point where I don't want to hear another accusation of any kind. How can I end this constant tattling? — Tattle Weary

Kids like to tattle. It seems to arise from some juvenile sense of justice. As Benedict sees it, there's no way he can idly stand by as his sister gets away with the very same things he tries to get away with. That simply isn't fair, and it must be stopped.

Basic tattling comes in several forms. Most straightforward is the Do you know what he did? tattle, designed simply to get a sibling into hot water. "Mom, Cliff just climbed on the couch again." Here the tattler benevolently leaves the form of discipline up to you, the parent. He just wants to make sure you're aware of the transgression.

Then there's the more urgent Do something about him tattle. "Make Iris quit looking at me." In this instance, the tattle-worthy offense, looking, is brought to your attention, along with the demand that you do your parenting duty, now.

Most major league is the Don't just look at her, do something tattle. "I can't believe you're letting her talk to you like that. You never let me use that word, in that tone of voice, yet!" Here the tattler makes sure not only to point out what you're already aware of, but also to pressure you into feeling that if you don't take action, you're being lazy, unfair, or — heaven forbid — inconsistent in your discipline.

Probably the simplest way to silence tattling is to ignore it. Set up a house rule: Tattled words are unheard words. If you didn't see what happened, or if you have no solid evidence of misconduct, you will not act. Obviously, if you spy Rufus hanging upside down from the spouting or Harry shows you his bald spot where Cutler snipped a chunk of his hair while he was sleeping, you may want to investigate further. But, on the whole, the stuff of day-to-day tattling is highly ignorable, however highly irritating. Then, too, if you try to ferret out the degree of truth of every tattle, you risk opening a can of worms, filled with tattles and counter-tattles, but short on facts.

To quiet an inveterate tattler, one whose main aim seems to be to shadow his siblings and make their lives miserable by reporting to you in graphic detail every misstep, you might consider a more active approach. "Ripley, whenever you tattle on Angel, whatever happens to her will happen to you." For instance, if Angel has to sit inside for fifteen minutes because, according to Ripley, she flung the kickball over the house again after being tagged out, Ripley too will cool down for fifteen minutes inside. Essentially, his tattling is being directly disciplined because its sole intent is to make life difficult for his sister, not to guide you in her upbringing.

With either method, must you worry that you're teaching your kids never to monitor each other's behavior and never to act responsibly if the situation calls for it? Absolutely not. Tattling is a far cry from genuine sibling concern. Tattling is endlessly bringing to your attention minor scrapes and childish conduct that you'd be better off just overlooking. A chronic tattler knows, or will quickly learn, what you'll attend to and what you won't.

There's a bright side to tattling. It should leave no doubt in your mind that your kids know exactly what you expect. Even while Polly is tattling, she is also telling you loud and clear that she knows what is right and what is wrong, what is allowed and what isn't.



Ray Guarendi. "A Cure for Tattling: Hear No Evil."

Reprinted with permission of Ray Guarendi.


Raymond N. Guarendi, aka Dr. Ray, is a practicing clinical psychologist and authority on parenting and behavioral issues active in the Catholic niche media. Guarendi is an advocate of common sense approaches to child rearing and discipline issues. Guarendi received his B.A. and M.A. at Case Western Reserve University in 1974, and his Ph.D. at Kent State University in 1978. He is the author of You're a better parent than you think!: a guide to common-sense parenting, Good Discipline, Great Teens, Adoption: Choosing It, Living It, Loving It; Straight Answers to Hearfelt Questions, Discipline that lasts a lifetime: the best gift you can give your kids, and Back to the Family.

Copyright © 2004 Ray Guarendi

Subscribe to CERC's Weekly E-Letter



Not all articles published on CERC are the objects of official Church teaching, but these are supplied to provide supplementary information.