There’s a difference between tattling — providing information for a self-serving reason and getting someone else into trouble — and telling. Telling is providing information for safety.
Nobody likes a tattletale. But there’s a difference between tattling — providing information for a self-serving reason and getting someone else into trouble — and telling. Telling is providing information for safety. It means speaking up when a child witnesses another child being bullied, or worse.
Webster’s Dictionary defines telling as a means to inform. Children need to know that it is important to tell if they see something that is not right; something that compromises anyone’s safety, including their physical or emotional well-being. Children should be taught the difference between tattling and telling. While it is a subtle difference, and, perhaps, an abstract concept for little ones, the difference can be taught. Telling is a form of reporting the facts and providing information for a safe, healthy learning environment — whether that be at home, or in school. Children who are directed not to tell on each other, don’t have the opportunity to learn the difference, and then often remain quiet as others are bullied, because they are afraid to tell. They have been quieted by adults who have trained them not to tattle, but have not taught them to tell.
Many families, as well as schools, have a difficult time setting limits for their tattlers. It is typical to overhear one child tattle on his brother or sister to gain family footing, trying to get his sibling into trouble. It is also common to overhear a child report a classmate’s wrongdoing, with a teacher’s immediate response of, “Don’t tattletale!” I became aware of one classroom that has a Tattle Turtle for the children to talk to whenever they feel the need to tattletale on another child. It seems like a cute idea, but the problem is that those children won’t ever learn the difference between tattling and telling.
We can teach our children the difference by role playing. Start a conversation with your child and think of appropriate “tells.” For example, if Johnny cut in line three people ahead of you, is that a tattle or a tell? It’s a tattle because you were directly affected and nobody was hurt. If the person who was cut in front of is upset, he should “tell,” and, hopefully, the adult in charge will remove Johnny and have him apologize. Work on teaching your child not to interrupt, unless it’s an emergency, because children often interrupt to tattle, thinking it is an emergency. Difficult but doable, you can teach the difference if you make it your focus. Role play to teach your child what it is that you consider to be an emergency. Is it an emergency if Johnny dropped a tissue on the floor and left it there? Is it an emergency if one of your classmates is hurt? Children are learning to regulate their impulses, so they need to be taught these subtle differences.
We need our children to become comfortable with telling; with reporting information that is hurtful or harmful. Start to identify it in your home and teach the difference. This is one step toward addressing bullying. Give them the tools they need to protect themselves — and others.
Diana Boggia, M.Ed., is a parenting educator. Send your child-rearing questions to FamilyMatters@cantonrep.com or The Repository, c/o Family Matters, 500 Market Ave. S, Canton, OH 44702. Find additional parenting resources at her website, www.yourperfectchild.com.