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growing up: early elementary

Tattletales

Your guide to the ages and stages of development

"Tattletale, tattletale. You?re nothing but a tattletale."

Some things never change, I thought as I listened to the singsong taunt floating though the open window. I remember clearly being a child who heard?and probably said?those same words.

For parents, a child who tattles poses a real dilemma. Not only does constant tattling drive you crazy, your child will quickly lose friends if she becomes known as a tattletale. Still, it?s hard to know what to do. On the one hand, you don?t want to ignore a problem, but you hate to reward a child for tattling.

If you?ve got a tattler in your house, it?s important to know that kids in early elementary school are just learning about boundaries. They?re eager to make sure everyone knows and follows the rules. A kindergarten student who says "Tasha took two cookies" might really be asking "Did I understand the rules? Can I have two cookies, too?"

These efforts to clarify acceptable behaviors are perfectly normal and probably aren?t meant to get other children in trouble. However, a child who consistently tracks the behavior of another child has moved into the tattling arena.

So, how do you respond?

Help your child make wise judgment calls. Through experience, your child will learn what information adults need to know and what really doesn?t matter. You want him to come and get you if his little brother leaves the back yard. You don?t need to know if his sister takes the blue shovel instead of the red shovel. To help him understand what?s important, you might say, "I?m glad you came to get me when Dustin unlatched the gate. Always call me right away if somebody could get hurt. You did the right thing."

Listen to your child. Pay attention to her words, but observe her nonverbal communication as well. You can tell by her tone, inflections and even how she walks into the room whether her concerns are important. A 5-year-old who slowly walks into the kitchen, takes a cookie and says accusingly, "Jimmy won?t share" might only need affirmation such as "It?s good that you?re sharing."

Encourage your child to be socially independent. Discuss ways he can solve his own problems. If he repeatedly wants you to referee in the back yard, talk through some options: bringing everyone inside, suggesting another outdoor activity or getting back together with friends after lunch. Offer lots of praise when your child comes up with his own solutions.

Take tattling seriously when it involves physical abuse. If your child tells about the bully on the playground, it?s because he needs your assistance. Help your kids discuss threatening situations and share their feelings. Discuss other people they might feel safe talking to: teachers, family members, friends.

When your child tattles, listen with an open heart and open ear. Your willingness to help her distinguish between what?s important and what?s not tells her that her safety is your first priority.

?Mary Manz Simon, Ed.D.
Practical parenting specialist

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