Tattling is on parent’s last nerve

WP Bloomberg
Friday, July 28, 2017

Q: Help me manage the tattling in our home. We have a 5-year-old and a 3-year-old, and every other sentence seems to be a form of tattling. “She hit me.” “He said a bad word.” “She’s not cleaning.” “He’s lying.” It’s so constant that I’ve resorted to telling them that I don’t care or that I don’t want to hear it, which I’m sure is not the right response. There are genuine tears involved in many cases. I don’t want them to think that I’m indifferent to their troubles, but I can’t arbitrate constantly. Any suggestions on how to respond and still accomplish whatever our goals are (cleaning up, playing nicely together, existing)?

A: Nothing gets under a parent’s skin like tattling. It is annoying, unproductive and seemingly endless. If you address the tattling, it’s like giving sunlight to a weed; the tattling grows and spreads. If you ignore the tattling, the children up the ante, becoming louder and angrier. It’s a lose-lose situation.

But some tattling is normal. To some extent, there is a natural competition between children in a house, and one of the ways it is expressed is through tattling. One child gains the parent’s favor and simultaneously gets the other child in trouble. Children see it as a useful tactic, and almost every child will tattle at some point. But chronic tattling means we must look at the children, and our parenting life, a bit differently.

I don’t know what is happening in your family. For instance, I don’t know if there are any stressors such as an illness, a move or a separation. Even good transitions can cause stress. I also don’t know whether your kids are experiencing any sleep issues, developmental problems or even food allergies. I mention this because even if one child has one of these issues, it can affect every sibling interaction and increase tattling. Take a look at the issues that may not seem to directly affect the tattling.

But an even deeper question is: What need are my children fulfilling when they tattle?

If I look at your kids’ ages, here are a couple of issues that jump out at me that you should consider:

1. If the kids are constantly monitoring each other (and telling on each other), they need more supervision.

2. Chronic tattling tells me that your kids are conditioned to getting your attention. Kids’ most essential need is to feel close to their caretakers, and they will try to make this happen at any cost.

3. When you say that you don’t care or you walk away, this most likely causes panic in your children. Mom or Dad walking away in anger leads to panic, which leads to more insecurity, which leads to more whining and tattling. Ignoring them or angrily walking away is making the tattling worse.

4. Getting to the bottom of who did what is almost always a recipe for disaster. First, you never get the true story. And when we mire ourselves in the details, we are fulfilling the fundamental need that tattling is seeking: belonging and attention.

You should also make sure children this age get proper exercise, food, water and rest.

Washington Post