Thursday, May 20, 2010

Telling vs Tattling

The thoughts in this post stem from the ideas in Barbara Coloroso's book "Kids are Worth it: Giving Your Child the Gift of Inner Discipline."

If your kids are old enough to talk, you have probably heard it: "Mooooooom, Johnny is ______"...and then you are supposed to figure out what to do next. Is Freddy's telling of the situation accurate? Should you intervene? Would your intervention be helpful? Is it too late? Did Freddy need to tell you or is he just mad at Johnny? Does Johnny need to be disciplined? Does Freddy need to be disciplined?! It can be complicated.

In the book, Barbara Coloroso suggests this litmus test for determining whether something is "telling" (good) or "tattling" (bad).

Tattling will get the other child into trouble
Telling will get the other child (or both children) out of trouble.

So if Johnny stuck his tongue out at Freddy, Freddy is tattling because he's trying to get Johnny into trouble.
If Johnny is stuck on the bathroom counter and can't figure out how to get down (don't laugh, it happens!) then Freddy is telling, and it's a good thing he is because otherwise Johnny might never make it down! ☺

Now I'm not saying that it's ok for Johnny to hit Freddy, and if Freddy was hurt then of course mom should step in and address some things with Johnny. But if there was no bodily harm, then consider letting it slide. No harm no foul...and maybe next time Freddy won't tattle about stuff that doesn't matter.
Ms Coloroso proposes the idea that parents only get involved in what they themselves actually see or hear happen. With the exception of blood or other serious damage, if you weren't there, then let it lie. If you're an attentive parent then you will see/hear a lot of things, and there will be opportunities to teach your children what they need to know. It's a much calmer (and more accomplishable) goal than intervening in every little thing.
I personally stand somewhere in the middle. I don't necessarily wait for serious damage, because I think that certain careless or aggressive behaviors, even if they didn't cause a big problem this time, they might do so next time. So if there was no serious damage but there was potential for it, then I try to intervene with teaching (though not generally with punishment).

I will say that in a household where tattling doesn't accomplish much, it doesn't happen very often. We get reports of legitimate problems, and a smattering of reports which I answer with "sounds like you guys need to work something out, do you want help?" Of course there is telling, but not very much tattling.


Aprillium said...

In our house it's Reporting vs tattling. "If someone or something is going to get hurt, come tell an adult!!" = reporting. If's tattling and you can figure it out.

There are certain things that I need my kids to tell me that may get someone else in trouble... ie anything to do with private parts. And I need them to know it's okay to tell me.

Also, there are instances where there is out and out bullying going on between siblings (my mom's parents totally let that slide and boy has that family been an unhappy one.) which is not okay as well.

I have to look at it this way, I would rather have my children tattle sometimes and me tell them to work it out then have them not tell me something I need to know.

Kate said...

I love the "sounds like you guys need to work something out, do you want help?" phrase. I'm writing it down so I'll remember it. What a great way to put a child in charge of their own problems, but still provide an adult "out."

Mommy Bee said...

Aprillium, you make an excellent point that we need to make sure our kids are not afraid to report bullying or inappropriate contact.
Right now we have a nearly-10yo and a 3yo, and the older one has experienced some bullying (and appears to have some emotional/sensory issues) so he struggles with realizing what is appropriate and what is too much with his little brother. I don't think he's intentionally bullying, but that is what he's doing sometimes, and it's important for the little guy to let me know so that I can intervene and help the big boy realize what he's doing.

Mallory said...

You also have to be careful about the emotional bullying. Saying that because there was no bodily harm done, there is no foul isn't exactly right.

I had a friend over the other night and we were talking about this kind of stuff. She said that her sister was really good (and exceptionally mean) with the words she would use. And she could get my friend so worked up that she would punch her to get her to stop verbally bullying her. Then she would get in trouble. Not that punching was the right thing to do, but verbal abuse is just as legitimate. (Sorry if that story got confusing with all the "she"'s and "her"'s!)

I think parents need to rely heavily on the Spirit when it comes to "telling" vs "tattling"!

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