Your 4-Year-Old: How to Discourage Tattling

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Your 4-Year-Old: How to Discourage Tattling

How to Discourage Tattling

Tattling tends to rear its ugly head in a big way during the late preschool years. Your child has a strong sense of justice and sometimes a short fuse. The impulse to tattle can become a habit if she thrives on the attention it brings, so respond with care. Don’t take a tattler’s complaint at face value; better to show her how to handle playtime complaints on her own, unless it’s an emergency.

“Mary won’t let me have a turn!” “John’s climbing on top of the slide!” Children spot wrongdoing faster than Superman zeros in on a bad guy — and they’re not shy about telling on the offenders.

Preschoolers may tattle out of a sense of righteousness. Or they may do it to get attention or make themselves look better in your eyes. Unfortunately, budding whistle-blowers don’t understand how exasperating it can be for everyone involved.

Our parents’ favorite motto, “I only want to hear about it if there’s blood spilled,” may seem callous. But the underlying message — try to work it out by yourself first — is just right for your child’s development. Set some ground rules. You only want to hear a complaint about a playmate if someone’s doing something truly dangerous. Realize, of course, that preschoolers aren’t always able to make those distinctions. So if she’s truly trying to protect someone (even if it’s not dangerous by your standards), praise her for coming to you.

When the tattling is just that, don’t punish the supposed wrongdoer. Your child’s version of events may be a tad skewed, and you’ll only reinforce the tattling habit. Obviously at four, your child isn’t fully equipped to handle every conflict on her own. So step in, talk about it, work out some solutions together, and then back off. You’ll gradually empower your child to try handling minor tussles on her own.

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