Debbie Granick is a parent/childbirth educator and freelance writer. She received a Masters in Social Work and a Masters in Public Health, specializing in Maternal and Child Health, from the University of North Carolina. Her previous work includes counseling adolescents and their families in a substance abuse prevention program, teaching tobacco education and reproductive health in a school setting, and consulting with local child care staff on toddler discipline strategies.

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Dear Debbie

Dear Debbie,

The constant tattling in my house makes me insane. Any quick fixes for the “he did it” syndrome?

Tattling is a great way to get mom’s attention. When it works, it becomes a habit. “Hmmm” thinks little Joey, “if I go tell mom, she pays attention to me, gets up from what she’s doing to see what’s going on, and my brother gets in trouble.” It’s a winning situation for the kid!! To stop tattling, stop reinforcing it. Focus on helping him solve conflicts himself and don’t get too involved. Here’s how:

Comfort. Don’t cure. When a child is upset, your job is emotional support, not problem solving. Comfort the child, but don’t intervene. Try: “Wow. That must hurt your feelings. Need a hug?”

Empower him to solve it himself. Say: “Thanks for letting me know. I can’t wait to hear how you solve that.”

Redirect him. A change of scenery can come in handy. Try: “Hmm. That doesn’t sound like fun. Maybe you guys would like to go outside for awhile?”

Kiss the Boo-boo. Offer to put a hug on that hurt feeling or a kiss on that mad face and see if it gets better.

Have “tattle-hours.” Kids are welcome to tattle, but only when you announce tattle-time. Each child gets to tell one thing, privately, to you. Then kiss them, say you’re sorry that happened, and send them on their way.

Give him an out. Kids tattle when they’re upset and need a breather. Try: “If you need a break, you can take hang out in your room or with me for a minute.”

Create a tattle-jar. Kids can use words or pictures to write a tattle for the tattle jar. They get to “tell.” And you don’t have to hear about it.

Let him be mad. Tattling is a way kids vent anger. Tell him to be mad by: putting mad faces on a chart, drawing an angry picture, yelling at a pillow, stomping around…and he won’t have to come to you!

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