What to Do When Kids Tattle

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Wherever two or more children are gathered, a tattle-tail will be among them.

Kids will be playing and getting along like gold. Just as you are ready to kick up your feet and relax, one of them comes running saying, “Sara took my truck!” or, “Cameron hit me in the face!”

What is your reaction when the child comes with the news of devastation? Here are some typical responses: “What is going on? Get over here Cameron! Why did you hit your brother?”
“Sara, did you take her truck? That isn’t yours, give it back!” or “Sara, you need to share with your sister. Let her have a turn with the truck and then you will get a turn later.”

When a kid tattles, are you quick to jump in and fix the situation? Do you take a more hands-off approach? Do you feel equipped in those situations? The following are the tips we have at swanniehouse in tattling situations.

  1. Calm yourself. Whenever a kid comes running to me with an offense, I literally stop myself from feeling irritated. My internal dialogue changed from, “I can’t believe I have to deal with this again,” to “This is an opportunity to help my child become a vessel of reconciliation. Some day he or she will be an employer, employee, roommate, or spouse. They can build skills in our home when they face problems with others.”
  2. Resist the urge to fix the situation. Recently, Odes tattled on Cupcake for stealing a card away from him while he was playing a card game. He wanted me to chase her down and get the card back. That would have been an easy way for me to deal with the problem and move on. This however, was my response, “I am sorry you are having this problem with Cupcake. What have you done so far to work on this?” He replied, “Nothing, because I know she will just run away.” I replied with kindness, “I don’t have a problem with Cupcake right now. It’s not my responsibility to leave what I am doing to fix this. If this is going to be solved, you are going to have to work on it. What can you do to start?” Guess what? They figured it out on their own. There are times when kids will need help…but when a tattler comes your way, remember the problems are theirs, not ours.
  3. Ask questions. “Wow, you seem really upset about this situation. Did you just need to talk about it or are you looking for some help? Oh, you want help? OK, what have you done so far?” If you spend any time in our home you will hear these kinds of questions coming from swannie mom and dad’s mouths frequently. Here are some others, “Is there anything you are responsible for in this situation? How can you talk to your friend/sister/brother about this problem? What can you do to bring peace to this situation?”
  4. Don’t choose sides. I have been guilty of this and I see it all the time with families. One kid comes running in tears to mom, either emotionally or physically hurt by a sibling or friend. Mom listens to the situation,¬†feels it is her responsibility to play judge and jury, and doles out a consequence. This is usually an unrealistic picture of relational difficulty. How many times have you had a conflict where the other person was 100% guilty and you had no part? When we choose one child over another we are helping create victims and turn the heart of the possible offender away from mom or dad. A better response: While caring for the hurt child, resist the mama-bear urge to attack. Give the hurt child language to express themselves to the offender. “I’m so sorry you were hurt. I never want you to feel unsafe/unloved in this home. Do you need some help talking to your sister? OK. Can you tell me how are you feeling?” My children usually say “angry” and at that point I try to help them find another emotion that may be underneath the anger. “Sometimes, disrespect feels like anger. Could you be feeling disrespected? Alright, let’s try this, “Sister, I felt disrespected when you took my dress from me and told me it looks better on you. It hurt my feelings.” Do you see the difference? Instead of jumping in and fixing the problem with punishments or angry words, you are helping the wounded communicate. It is helpful to assist the other party in this process as well by helping them listen humbly and express their feelings as well.

These tips aren’t a formula to reduce tattling in your home. Hopefully, they will equip you when looking at situations in your own home to use these situations as tools for development in your children. Try applying one tip until it starts feeling natural, then add another layer to your parenting. The initial change may be in your responses only. Over time, you will see your children benefitting from the changes in your own heart.

Our homes are a safe place for children to practice relational skills they will need in order to mature into capable adults that can live out healthy relationships. As parents, our responses to our kid’s problems are a huge deciding factor in how they will relate to others when they interact with the world outside our walls. Be thoughtful, prayerful, and intentional.

And here is some hope: As my perspective has changed in this area, the tattling actually has reduced. Five kids at home all the time, it’s only realistic to expect some fighting and drama. But my kids are masters at working through their problems with minimal help from mom and dad.

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