When Your Child Is a Tattletale

I have a six-year-old daughter. When she gets called a name, or something happens at school, she tells the teacher. However, the teacher always tells her not to be a tattletale. I have spoken to the principal about this matter, but it hasn't helped. What should I do?

Question:

Primary-aged children go through some real growing pains during those first few years of elementary school. Not only do they have a lot of academic learning to tackle, but they also develop important social skills that they will use for the rest of their lives. Learning how to get along with others can be difficult, especially for children who do not have much experience in problem solving outside of school.

Tattling can be a pervasive problem with this age group. The children have difficulty working out their differences and sometimes it is just easier for them to tell on one another rather than to try to handle it on their own. The teacher's responsibility is to model problem-solving strategies and offer children a safe environment in which to practice these skills.

Parents, too, have a responsibility to guide their children toward social independence. While it may seem easier to intervene, an adult who does not encourage children to work their problems out on their own is teaching them to depend on others to take care of things for them and that can be a difficult habit to break.

However, there certainly are times and situations in which an adult's intervention is warranted. When disagreements go unresolved and things heat up, it may become necessary for an adult to get involved. Furthermore, children who are repeating unacceptable behavior such as teasing or name calling may need to hear the words of an adult in order to understand the seriousness of their misbehavior.

I suggest that you talk to your child's teacher about this problem. The way in which you approach her will impact the success of your conversation, so try to be proactive and open-minded rather than judgmental. Ask the teacher to describe the situations where your daughter is tattling. Is it always the same kids who are bothering her? Does the teacher model and teach problem-solving skills to her students? What steps does she expect her students to follow when faced with a difficult situation? Ask the teacher what you can do to help. Express your concern about your child's interpretation of the situation, too. While the teacher may not allow your child to "tattle" at will, she may become more flexible about listening to your child's concerns and may even be able to offer more specific advice to your daughter as to how to handle the problems that occur.

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