Oldest Child, bellowing simultaneously: “She hit me!”
Me: “Okay guys, calm down and tell me what happened. I bet we can solve this problem.”
Youngest Child, still in tears and now on the floor in a dramatic heap of despair: “I don’t know, she’s mean and I’m not going to be her sister anymore!”
Me to Youngest Child: “Tough luck kiddo, she’ll always be your sister. Did you hit her?”
Youngest Child trying to look innocent: “Sniff, no.”
Me to Oldest Child while picking Youngest Child up off the floor: “Did you ask her nicely for the dinosaur?”
Oldest Child, indignant and near tears: “Yes. Well, no. But it was my turn!”
Youngest Child, reaching towards her sister, clearly intending to strike again: “Nuh-uh, I had it first!”
Further chaos ensues and I hide in the broom closet, coming out only when it is quiet and I’m pretty sure everyone’s asleep.
(This is a dramatic representation of tattling in my household. Not all of these things happen every time. For example, I don’t always hide in the broom closet. Sometimes it’s under the bed. And sometimes I bring sugary snacks or adult beverages with me.)
Tattling and the conflict that goes with it are developmentally normal and mark the beginning of social problem solving skills for children. This phase also marks the beginning of unhealthy coping strategies for many parents, see above. A tattling child is either trying to show you that he or she understands the rules and knows they shouldn’t be broken, wants your attention, or is struggling to resolve a conflict with another child.
Regardless of what motivates the tattling episode, this is a great opportunity to help your child practice effective conflict resolution, even if your instincts tell you to run for the hills. First take a minute to listen to and acknowledging what is important to each child. Here you should try to avoid saying things like, “I know you want the stupid doll but it’s your sister’s freaking turn, alright?!?!” Then guide them toward a resolution by helping to generate a list of possible solutions. Involve yourself as little as possible while assuring them that this is a problem they can solve. Finally, when everyone is calm again, escape to your favorite hiding place to regroup for the next crisis.
Despite the fact that tattling is a normal and unavoidable part of raising children, this is what I really wish would happen:
Oldest Child: “Mom, she hit me but I had it coming because I wouldn’t let her have the green block she wanted for the castle she was building. So we’re cool now. Just wanted to let you know. Can I have a banana and a sippy of milk?”
Youngest Child: “Yeah, mommy, I did hit her but I said I was sorry and we hugged and everything. We’re going to go play quietly in our room now. Can I have a banana too?”
A mom can dream, can’t she?