Your eight-year-old daughter Olivia is playing with her friends Amy and Selina.
They are having a great time. They've taken some dolls and stuffed animals and are creating a pretend daycare.
When they are ready to settle the "kids" down for their naps, Amy wants to put them all together and the other two want to create some groupings by their pretend ages.
Rather than try to work it out, Amy goes directly to you to tell on the other two, who aren't, in her view, playing fair. They are doing it all wrong.
You are ready for this problem. Amy loves to tattle on other kids. She gets this righteous look on her face; you can almost see her halo glowing when she tries to involve you in solving her problem. She wants you to see that she is the one who is right and good and the other two kids need to be in trouble for causing the situation.
But later that same day, she runs into the kitchen. She looks totally different, she is scared and concerned and quickly tells you that Selina dropped a glass on the floor and it shattered.
What is the difference? In the first example, Amy is tattling and in the second she is telling.
It's important to know the difference between these and help your kids learn when to tell and when to avoid tattling.
When a child tattles it is because they want to get another kid in trouble, look good in the eyes of the adult or have an adult solve the problem. You can often tell simply by their demeanour and they will often follow their description of the problem by saying, "What are you going to do to her?"
The best way to handle a tattler is to refuse to engage. If this is the first time she has tattled just let her know that she is tattling and you don't want to deal with that.
Don't give her eye contact, just keep on doing whatever you were doing. You can ignore her or just say, "ummm." Or you can say, "I bet you kids can work it out together."
Kids are telling when there is a real problem. They see someone is in trouble and needs protection or a kid is going to wreck someone's property. They tell when they are in danger and scared.
One day I watched as a creative six year old used the idea of tattling without actually doing it. He was playing with some other kids, all a bit older than him, in his playroom. They were swinging on the door.
Now this child knew that was not a good idea and against the rules of the house but the other kids wouldn't listen. So I heard him say, "I'm going to tell on you!" He ran quickly up the stairs, stood on the top landing and I heard him count to 10 quietly. Then he raced back downstairs and in an authoritative voice said, "Mom said to stop or you'll have to go home." And they did.
If you are having an ongoing problem with a specific child who loves to tattle there are some steps you can take. Make sure you are paying attention to him when he's not tattling. Get him involved in a project where he can be successful and feel good about himself. Teach her, and the group she plays with, how to problem solve on their own. Have them think about a problem and discuss options. What could they do? How could they handle it differently? Once Amy no longer feels the need to tattle, she will be a happier child and you will enjoy having her in your home.
. Kathy Lynn is a parenting expert who is a professional speaker and author of Who's In Charge Anyway? and But Nobody Told Me I'd Ever Have to Leave Home.