Column: How to deal with tattling, one tattle at a time

'Raising Prescott'

American author and journalist Margaret Mitchell may have been onto something in her 1936 novel, “Gone with the Wind,” where she penned the phrase, “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn.”

There’s plenty of life situations in which I’m sure we’d love to apply that candid statement, but recently in my life, children tattling fits the bill.

“Daddy, Emma is reading my book!”

“Mommy, A.J. is throwing his Legos!”

“Mommy, Emma isn’t eating her food!”

“Daddy, A.J. took his socks off and threw them on the floor!”

And those were just today! On and on and on. For hours. A factory of tattle-tales.

Trying to figure out how to explain to children the best time to inform us parents about a potentially dangerous situation we immediately need to respond to, and the nefarious act of just telling to tell because you can, is exhausting.

Harper Lee advised, “When a child asks you something, answer him, for goodness sake.”

But what about when your 6-year-old son, from the back seat of daddy’s truck, tells on his 4-year-old sister because she’s looking out of HIS window?

Really, dude?

Putting aside the literary quotes for a minute, it was parents.com blogger Cheryl Lock who recently wrote about this subject and quoted child psychologist Lawrence Balter, Ph.D.

“It’s about rules,” Balter said. “Young kids tend to be very literal, as their cognitive development cannot recognize abstract reasoning yet.”

Lock went on to discuss tattling as a form of “attention or status” because they’re just looking to be noticed. Tattling can be about “revenge” and “power,” too. Or they’re just tired, and when they’re tired, anything goes.

“Some tattlers always want to be in charge,” Lock said. “A tattler seeking power may likely have a strong-willed Type A personality and may want to put someone else in line.”

Great, so I have two Type A kids who are likely in the beginning stages of a territorial war in my home for years to come?

Not happening!

So what do we do? Lock had an answer for that, too.

Pointing out tattling is her No. 1 prevention tip, but not towards your own child, someone else’s. The idea is to use the opportunity as a teaching moment. “Bring the action to your child’s attention and ask what they think about what the kid is doing.”

You’ll be shocked at their response.

Balter adds, “Do they understand what the child is doing is tattling, and why it’s wrong?”

Taking the time to talk about what the other child could have done instead of tattling will give the child a chance to realize their own behavior.

I haven’t tried this personally, but it’s been added to the list.

Until next time.

Brian M. Bergner Jr. is sports editor for The Daily Courier, the Prescott Valley Tribune and the Chino Valley Review. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @SportsWriter52, or on Facebook at @SportsAboveTheFold. Email bbergner@prescottaz.com or call 928-445-3333, ext. 1106.