Hi Dr. Meg,
We have a tattling problem in our house. I have a nine-year-old and seven-year-old who tattle on each other and their five-year-old brother. They say stuff like, "Mom, he slid down the stairs," or "Mom, she said a naughty word!"
If I do not respond with a consequence, my nine-year-old takes it into his own hands to “punish” his sibling. I am exhausted with policing every little situation. Help!
The Mom Police
Dear Mom Police,
Ah yes, I know this problem well. It’s like having more than one mom in the house and nobody needs more than one mom disciplining their kids.
It sounds like your oldest simply has a bossy side to his personality and is probably going through a phase. The obsession with tattling will pass, but in the meantime, here are a few things you can do for your own sanity.
Give consequences for tattling.
Focusing on your nine-year-old, tell him there will be consequences if he tattles on his brothers for small things. Take away his iPad or implement another consequence you know would work for him. Make sure he knows the difference between dangerous behaviors that require your help and small, inconsequential behaviors that aren’t his job to police.
Make your children say nice things to each other.
At the dinner table, start a habit of saying nice things about each other. Have each child say something nice about the other such as, I like that you played with me yesterday. Or, you’re really good at throwing a ball. Simple compliments like that will help instill gratitude in your children for each other, making them less prone to tattle on each other for small behaviors.
Separate them for brief periods of time.
Separate your two oldest children from time to time. For example, have one of them go to soccer day camp and the other art camp. They don’t have to be apart overnight. Even being apart for one day can make them feel differently about each other when they get home.
Take time for yourself.
Don’t forget to take some time for yourself. Tattling kids and policing every little thing is sucking up a lot of your time and energy. Get it back! Take breaks when you’re able. Drop the kids off somewhere, leave them with your husband, go for a walk, meet up with friends. Carve out weekly time for an activity that feels restorative for you.
Again, I want to emphasize the tattling phase won’t last forever even though it feels like it will. Employ consequences for tattling, separate your kids on occasion, and instill gratitude in them for each other. That gratitude will last long into adulthood.