I’ve never been a fan of the word “tattling”. Maybe because my Northeast Ohio accent really extenuates the hard “a” sound, making the word itself sound almost as annoying as the practice. tAAAttling.
Or maybe because when your kid first starts the time-honored tradition of telling on his siblings and friends, it can be hard to explain why you don’t want to know that someone is doing something they’re not supposed to be doing. After all, as parents, we basically spend all day long telling them to stop doing what they’re not supposed to be doing.
No, we don’t want to know that Johnny used a bad word even though we’d be telling him that if we heard it ourselves. But wait, yes, we DO want to know if Johnny is playing with matches. Putting his finger in your face? Nah. Trying to climb up on the roof? YES.
My son is an only child, but my husband and I have been foster parents a couple of times. During the year when my son was five and we had a four-year-old child in our care, the tattling ran rampant through our house. Finally, in a conscious effort to avoid saying “tattling” altogether, I took to using the phrase, “Is anyone sad or unsafe? No? Go back to playing”. But even that wasn’t quite right; a lot of annoying things can make a person sad.
I recently stumbled upon this same dilemma from a parent on Reddit. “3InaRow” has a four-year-old son and admitted that his tattling can be useful:
I’ll be honest, I love it! There are times I need to use the restroom or grab something from upstairs and he has minimized the mess being made in the family room, because he warned me before it got too bad.
An elementary teacher, “dinosaur_boots,” jumped in with one of the best explanations I’ve seen on tattling versus reporting:
Reporting is helpful information that the child feels is important to share (bullying, making a big mess, etc.). Usually you will also find that useful, even if it’s nothing major. Tattling is simply trying to get someone else in trouble. Maybe it’s true and the child being tattled on shouldn’t be doing what they are doing, but maybe it’s not really that important.
“DarlinMermaidDarlin” also offered up a set of questions for kids to ask themselves before they tattle/report:
Is it True?
Is it Helpful?
Is it Important?
Is it Necessary?
Is it Kind?
Another simple but straightforward explanation from “Akember007":
Tattling: looking to simply get someone else in trouble. Telling: looking out for the good of something/someone.
Here’s one last definition, in the words of my eight-year-old son: “Tattling is like, ‘Waaah, he took my toy!’ It’s something that’s not a big deal and you can handle yourself. Reporting is something important, like when someone is bleeding or pukes”.