Is My Child a Tattletale?
When I taught middle school, it used to drive me crazy when the other teachers didn't follow simple rules like turning in the forms on time that allowed me to complete student reports and following the curriculum. I was friends with our Assistant Principal who used to laugh at my frustrations and told me once that I have an over-developed sense of right and wrong. I heard that phrase - over-developed sense of right and wrong - several years later when meeting with my daughter's kindergarten teacher.
It seemed that the other children acting out sometimes bothered my daughter to the point of distraction. I could certainly relate, but I also needed to help her understand that it wasn't her job to report bad behavior all day long. It was kindergarten, after all. She'd be running to the teacher non-stop.
By that point we were also having an issue at home as my daughter appointed herself head tattle-teller, primarily in charge of watching her younger brother for any signs of bad behavior. It is very important to me that my children both feel comfortable telling us anything, but nobody wants their child to become a tattletale.
We decided to talk to our daughter about different reasons that people tell on someone. The main reason to alert an adult to someone's behavior is if that person or someone else might get hurt. This seemed like a clear line to draw, one that she could understand. Was her little brother eating a second cracker without asking or was he standing on a chair trying to reach a high shelf? Was that child on the playground running through the grass during black top only time or was he sneaking out to the parking lot?
As my daughter has gotten older we've been able to refine this a little more so that she also understands the positives and negatives of being a "tattletale." This summer as we've all spent a lot of time together in the house, we've had many teachable moments partly because of naughty little brother behavior, but also because of my daughter's increased frustration with spending time with a five year old. At times I've found myself saying things like, "Is anyone bleeding? No? Then don't tell me." Of course, knowing when and if to tell on someone is more complicated than if there are signs of injury, and I fully anticipate revisiting where the lines are drawn as we head back to school this week.
Where do you think the line should be drawn between being helpful and being a tattletale?