Q: My kid tattles all the time! How do I get them to stop?

A: We have a remedy for this. Knowing the difference between tattling and reporting is an important part of personal safety.

Children can easily learn the difference between tattling and reporting and you will have a calmer household for it. Simply stated:

TATTLING is telling on someone to get them in trouble.

REPORTING  is done to keep someone safe.

When it comes to their safety or the safety of others, your child should be taught that reporting to a trusted adult is always the right thing to do.

Reporting is the act of seeking help from a grown-up when your child or someone else is at risk of getting hurt. It can be to let you know about a dog roaming around the park that has no owner or it can be something that happened to them like bullying, child abuse or something scary they saw online. Children are often scared into silence. Reporting is a skill that helps to break the silence.

A child who is taught that they have a right to report to an adult when there’s an unsafe situation becomes their own advocate.

Teaching the skill of reporting is easy and has many benefits both for your home and in the classroom.  Here’s how you do it:

Step 1. When a child (any age) runs up to you and starts rattling off a story raise your hand (similar to the ‘talk to the hand’ motion) and ask them to take a breath. (This supports teaching children how to self-regulate.)

Step 2. Then ask (using a calm, non-emotional tone ie. Not snarky or annoyed), “Are you tattling or Reporting?” As the grown-up in this situation you already know the answer to this – but your goal is for the child to start understanding the difference.

HINT: When children are tattling their voice sounds whiny. When children are Reporting, their voice sounds more assertive, concerned and serious. 

Step 3. If the child says, ‘I’m tattling.’, DO NOT pick up the rope! Do not ask for more information, do not get sucked into the drama. DO SAY: ‘Thanks for answering honestly. If it is very important to you go back and settle the issue yourselves. If you cannot resolve it then you can take a few minutes break from playing with each other. I know you can manage this yourselves.

Step 4. If your child responds, ‘I am reporting.’ Then ask in a calm voice ‘What is happening?’  You, as the grown-up, can decide if it is something that is urgent and needs immediate response, ex. one of the toddlers walked out the front door, or if it is something that can be dealt with at a later time.

Through this distinction, children learn how to communicate about important issues to their grown-up and the grown-up learns how to empower children to resolve the smaller everyday issues themselves. From making this a part of how your home runs children learn that they have an approachable parent and learn how to use this important resource when needed and how to become more self-reliant in dealing with small everyday challenges. Encourage children to problem solve on their own so they can learn much needed social-emotional skills.


1.) Give your child examples of tattling and reporting.

For example:
• You are at the park and your child comes over to tell you that there is broken glass in the sandbox. This is reporting because somebody could have cut themselves. The report kept your child and other children safe.
• Your child tells you that another child in the park ate an extra cookie after his mother told him not to. This is tattling because the purpose is to get the other child into trouble over something that is not really dangerous or unsafe for them.

2.) Ask your child to give you examples of a time when someone tattled on them, or when they tattled on somebody else.

3.) Ask your child to give you examples of a time when they reported something to keep themselves or someone else safe. Ask who they reported to and did that person listen?


TIP: The more children can make the distinction between tattling and reporting, and the more often the grown-up does NOT get involved in resolving tattling issues, children learn how to resolves these issues themselves. Don’t get involved in the he said she said drama.

Related Posts


Tweet us your questions