By Barb Vasiloff

Recall that very young children feel a moral obligation to report events or actions that indicate a rule has been broken or someone is doing something they shouldn't do. When children are ages 5-7 this duty bound behavior is often labeled Ītattling'.  In skill language the children are trying to understand skill #7 Reasons for Rules. 

Three simple approaches can be tried when tattling begins to surface.

  1. Politely thank the child for reporting.  Do nothing else.

  2. Ask the child.  "Are you telling me because you want me to do something or just to let me know?  If they want you to do something, encourage them to work with you and the other person(s) to solve the problem. If they are unwilling to be part of the solution the matter probably doesn't bother them that much.

  3. Create a complaint box and let children draw or print the problems they notice on 5x8 cards and place them in the box.  Periodically open the box and review the concerns they have.  Talk about each issue when things are calm and brainstorm problem solving techniques that might be used the next time the issue arises.


For older children "tattling' usually means they want to get the other person in trouble.  In skill language they may not know how to take the initiative and resolve the problem, or, they are trying to figure out how to accomplish a task.   Instruct your children that Ītattling' is only an appropriate means of communication when someone's life is in danger, abusive actions occur or they are fearful that something will get out of control.

It helps to establish principles to live by when practicing the skill of resolving problems. Use some of these:

  • Problems cannot be solved by hitting, but by talking.

  • Time-out opportunities can be used to get ready to talk about a problem.

  • People must work to fix a problem so the same thing doesn't occur the next time.

  • When a person is sorry for doing something, they must act to show their sorrow in some way.  Words alone are not enough.

You cannot fix your problem by making problems for others.

Reproduction of this article in whole or in part allowed with proper credit given to:

Discipline With Purpose
3406 Hurstbourne Ridge Blvd.
Louisville, KY 40299