You hear it, don't you. At a certain age, it suddenly starts to emerge....
'Muuuuuuuum, ABC is doing XYZ!!!'
Now, our kiddos usually operate as a team so we didn't hear tattling for a good long while... but then 'suddenly' up it cropped. Um....how are we gonna handle this one?! My husband and I quickly realised we needed to think about an intentional and firm 'family policy' on how to handle this little thing known widely as....
When Sibling A tells the parents that Sibling B is (allegedly!) up to no good.
Why? Possibly because...
a) They hope to get them 'in trouble'
b) They are genuinely distressed/concerned about what is happening
c) They are taking too much responsibility for their sibling's behaviour
d) All of the above?!
So where does that leave the parents? Suddenly corralled into investigating all sorts of mischief that may or may not have happened as described. You obviously didn't witness the indiscretion, so it makes it rather tricky (and time consuming!) to get to the bottom of things.
And where does that leave the siblings? Split apart and ready to 'pounce and renounce' their beloved brother or sister in order to 'get them in trouble' or whatever the motive may be. Sometimes, yes, it's genuine distress, worry or dismay. But something doesn't feel right about kids running to 'tell' on their siblings throughout the day.
Tattling just doesn't seem like a good habit for our kids to get into, does it?
However, we don't like to tell our kids just what not to do - we want to give them strategies for dealing with these issues themselves.When a new issue crops, my hubby and I like to step back and chat about where we think the behaviour is coming from and how to best approach it. This helps us be intentional in our approach and working together with a 'game plan' tends to make us more consistent (ahhhh, the rub of parenting - consistency!). We thought about our goals for our children's relationship with each other. How we felt about behaviour that was 'not okay' going on in our home and us not knowing about it. How we also felt about being constantly pulled in to investigate and adjudicate over events we hadn't actually witnessed.
Some of the elements we wanted to consider for our family policy on 'tattling'... (dot points in an attempt to be brief!)...
- Just saying 'No tattling' didn't seem realistic. While we don't want our kids to tattle, there are situations we do need to know about... you know, for health and safety and burning houses and whatnot ;)
- We want our kids to see themselves as a team. A sibling team: friends who look out for, support, protect and encourage each other - not bringing each other down. I want our kids to have each other's backs when launching into the big wide world. It is so important to me, to nurture those sibling bonds.
- We want our kids to want each other to make good choices, to hope for each other's best.
- We do not want to be told about every minor misdemeanor and spend all day refereeing. They needed tools for dealing with things themselves.
- If our kids are making a bad choice and we are not aware of it, we've decided it's pretty much 'between them and God' if you know what I mean. I don't need to micromanage every misdeed. Any character issues will surely come to light at other times, in ways I personally witness. It's more important to us to nurture the sibling relationship than to pit them against each other as tiny power crazed police! If they are flicking the lights on and off or getting out of bed when asked not to, and I don't see it myself, that's ok. In the end, our parenting is about engaging our children's hearts and moral development long term, which unfolds in more ways than getting out of bed one time.
- I DO want to be told about behaviour that is dangerous (harming or likely to harm themselves or others, like hitting siblings, preparing to jump from the top bunk or playing with matches) or destructive (harming property, like drawing on the walls or ripping up a book).
- We want our kids to understand that they cannot control the actions of other people and they are not responsible for other's bad choices. This is one of life's lessons it took me a loooong time to learn so I want to get this one in early! If they see someone making a bad choice, I want them to encourage them to make a better choice, but without feeling like they must control the other person or be responsible if they continue. I want them to know I don't hold them to account for that - even the older siblings.
We then came up with two simple phrases to help guide the kids and ourselves through a potential tattling situation. Of course, we sat the kids down first and talked with them about our expectations and explained what these phrases mean.
When a child comes running to me saying 'Mum, Mum, ABC is....'
I calmly stop them and first ask 'Is it dangerous or destructive?'
If yes, I immediately go and investigate and deal with as necessary.
If no, I ask 'Have you encouraged them to make a better choice?'
If 'No', I suggest they go and gently encourage their sibling (eg 'ABC, remember that Mum said to stay in bed!'. But I remind them that they can't force them and they are not responsible if their sibling chooses not to obey.
At this point their intention usually becomes clear. If perhaps they were hoping to throw their beloved sibling under the bus, (!!) they walk away realising that I'm not playing that game. If they seem genuinely distressed then it's an opportunity to comfort them and talk about choices and personal responsibility. We chat about using our words (and not our hands!) to encourage others to make good choices.
We can't police our children 24/7, even if we did want to... (a good time to insert the phrase 'Ain't nobody got time for that!' Haha!). We take our kid's character development extremely seriously as parents, but part of this is recognising that at the end of the day, parenting is not about controlling every behaviour but about reaching their hearts and helping transform the attitudes behind their behaviour.
This approach aims to preserve and encourage sibling bonds, to save our sanity, and to have a consistent 'line in the sand' about what issues we intervene in and those we won't. I don't want our kids to be tempted to be 'tattletales'. Our family policy is an intentional choice, knowing you have to win some and lose some. They say in parenting you pick your battles and we hope this is a case where we miss some minor battles in order to gain victory in a greater war - their hearts and their relationships.
The kids now know where we stand and feel empowered and also relieved (especially our oldest, who tends to feel responsible for her younger siblings behaviour, which is a burden too great for a kid to bear, I think!). Tattling is now at a minimum and we have a 'policy' in place to help guide us all when it does emerge. I am thankful to see the sibling bond continue to grow and strengthen as my kids encourage each other to make good choices, without being burdened to either 'tattle' or control others.
So, those two simple phrases? In case they got lost in my rambling (TL:DR!?), in summary they are - when your kids come running to you to tattle on a sibling, simply ask -
Is it dangerous or destructive?
Have you encouraged them to make a good choice?
I hope this technique is helpful to your family or at least a prompt to consider your own family approach to tattling :)
'So then, let us always aim for those things that lead to peace and help strengthen one another'