Tattle Tales

THERE ARE SOME THINGS THAT ARE GUARANTEED TO PUT A PARENT’S NERVES ON EDGE. ONE OF THOSE IS HEARING FROM ANOTHER ROOM THE WORDS “I’M TELLING ON YOU!”

Your heart sinks, your blood pressure rises and sometimes the frustration level brings tears to your eyes.

Now, I want open communication with my children. I want my kids to be able to come to me with problems.

I just don’t want it every three minutes. And not because they can’t work out between themselves whose turn it is to play with that specific toy (despite there being an identical version of that toy laying two metres away neglected).

Or because someone refused to play a certain game. Or won’t play at all. Or – my personal favourite – because “she looked at me funny”. It drives me crazy. My girls are five now and I tend to think they should be able to sort out the vast majority of these earth-shattering ‘problems’ without parental intervention. But how do you get the balance between being there for them and making them fend for themselves?

My friend Courtney got fed up with the constant barrage of dobbing and declared, “Unless someone is bleeding or dead, don’t bother telling me. Sort it out yourselves”. Shortly afterwards her three year old (against the house rules) made himself a Milo, sneaked it into his bedroom and promptly spilled it all over the plush carpet. With the help of his six year old sister – and co-conspirator – the kids tried to clean it themselves (one square of paper towel, some vigorous scrubbing and a lot of whispered, “You’re in so much trouble!”) but, as no one was bleeding or dead, they didn’t tell Mum. It was quite a while before she discovered the mess and the error of her hardcore approach.

But telling is not all bad. It’s proof that our kids know the difference between right and wrong.  The trick is to teach them they don’t need to prove it over and over again.

How? Well for starters we have to teach them there’s a difference between tattling (to get someone in trouble) or telling (to get help). Between an incident done on purpose and one by accident.

I wish I could give you a magic formula (oh, how I wish there was one) but like so many things with children it’s a matter of communication and consistent messages. Plus, maybe a little less screaming. And while it won’t be easy and will require a lot of deep breaths on our part, instilling positive communication skills in our kids will last a long, long time.

Even longer than it took Courtney to get the smell out of the carpet.

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