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Why Kids Tattle

(and How to Respond)

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Here’s how figure out what’s going on with your own little tattletale and what you can do to tame her.

Nobody likes a tattletale.

You know, that kid who constantly runs to you, your spouse, or the teacher-in-charge, to yak about—or rat out—a friend, acquaintance, or sibling.

But if you’re like a lot of parents of 6- to 10-year-olds, you may find that you have a little whistleblower on your hands, as tattling is fairly common throughout the elementary school years.

Children snitch for a variety of reasons. Some do it simply to get attention. Others tattle to get back at a school or playground buddy. A few squawk to settle the score after a physical or verbal altercation, especially if the offending child will be reprimanded or punished after the informer blabs about it. (Think of one sib ratting out another for staying up way past bedtime.)

But kids “tell” for other reasons. They may tattle when their feelings are hurt, like when they’re pushed out of a clique they want to be in. They may “spill,” too, if they think a child at school, or a sibling, has broken a rule or violated a moral code that’s been drilled into them.

How to Help a Tattler

The following guide may help you understand what your tattler is saying when he tells on others. Check our tips on how to respond to your little informer.

Your child says: Justin used a curse word!

You say: Justin said something he shouldn’t have said, but it's not your job to tell me.

The backstory: Kids tend be strict about rules, especially as they apply to siblings. In this case, it’s more important to encourage harmony than it is to prolong a situation in which nobody has been physically or emotionally injured.


Your child says: Matt pushed me at school again today. He said that if I tell the teacher, he’s going to get his friends to punch me during recess.

You say: Bullying is unacceptable. Speak to your teacher.

The backstory: Your child needs to know you take events like this seriously and that adults are there to help him. Encourage him to report incidents if he or someone he knows has been physically or emotionally hurt or threatened.


Your child says: At the party today, some kids took more pizza than they were supposed to. That’s not fair. They should be punished.

You say: Some of your friends must have been very, very hungry. I’m sure there was plenty of pizza for everybody.

The backstory: This squabble between kids likely had little to do with pizza or fairness. This may have more to do with your child’s emerging moral or ethical sense, but to be safe, talk to her to determine whether there is an underlying reason for her frustration or anger.


Your child says: Sophie told everyone to stop being friends with Amanda.

You say: I’m glad you told me. Now let’s figure out how you can support Amanda and what you can say to Sophie.  

The backstory: Kids need to know their parents are there to help them, and conversations like this should be encouraged. Children can play a big role in informing grown-ups of what’s going on “under the radar” of adult awareness.