Parents Confusing Kids: They say don't tattle but you better report problems to us

I spoke with a New York reporter today who was working on a story about the mixed messages adults send children about not tattling, yet they want their children to bring problems to the adults attention. On one hand, adults encourage children to “tell mommy when something is wrong,” and then on the other hand, mommy yells at little Johnny when he follows through and complains about something his sister is doing down the hall. Is this a mixed message? You bet. 

 I encourage parents to remove “tattling” from their vocabulary and don’t bring any attention to it. A child should be encouraged to always bring something they see as a problem to the caregiver’s attention because the child has to develop the sense as to whether something needs an adult’s attention or not. This will be developed over time through the healthy experience of interacting with the adult in reporting a problem. This means that every time a child brings a problem to the adult, the adult should remain calm and acknowledge the problem by saying something like, “really?” “wow!” ”how did that happen?” “what will you do now?” 

In that initial engagement, the parent should assess whether the problem being presented is all that serious and to avoid running in there to rescue or scold a child if it is not necessary. If the child reports that “a man is climbing in through the window into my room,” then by all means, the adult should take action. But if the child is reporting that “my sister won’t play with me,” the child should then get problem-solving coaching from the parent. 

This is where the adult might say things like, “what do you think you could do so your sister will play with you?” or “how does it make you feel when she won’t play with you?” The first response begins the process of using coaching skills to help the child solve his or her own problem. The second response begins the process of helping the child develop his or her emotional intelligence; assessing how things that happen around them trigger feelings. 

Too many parents are walking around with invisible magic wands, ready to solve their child’s problems for them to “make the world fair” and keep things efficient. Parents do this because they feel guilty for not having more time to spend with their children or because the other parent doesn’t live with them anymore. So their response is to always be there to “make everything all better” for the child because it seems to keep the child happy and it makes the adult feel better as well. It’s time that parents begin raising CAPABLE children, not happy children. Read more at my Web site and follow me at

© 2013 Bill Corbett  -   All Rights Reserved


  1. This is a great post. I love the image of the magic wand and you are right on so many levels about the "teachable moment" aspect of a child reporting a problem.

    What would you suggest if the child is reporting that their sibling hit them? Our younger child has perfected the under-the-radar swipes and jabs. He does this while maintaining a generally placid attitude so that we, the parents, don't see them in action, but the actions often succeed in antagonizing our older child. I know all that little subversive tricks of the younger child because I was the younger child...

    So, what's the suggested response / coaching method in the case of a 4 year old child reporting a legitimate case of a 2 year old hitting?

    1. Hi Mama Leche, thanks for reading and I'm sorry that I'm just seeing your comment now. My suggestion is to not over react to these incidents and to put more emphasis on understanding why the swipes and jabs are happening. A child's actions are motivated by the desire to get an unmet need met. I suggest being sure that the parent has "dates" with each child and to always make a bid deal of good behavior whenever it occurs. Sibling rivalry is normal and if we over react to it, it can motivate the child to continue to doing it. Also keep in mind that the swipes and jabs may be the younger child's way of trying to get the older child to engage and play with him. Teach the older child how to ask his older sibling to play with him. You also want to coach and teach the older child how to let the younger one know when to leave him alone by expressing it verbally. Thanks for leaving a comment for me!


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog


HELP! My Kid Will Scream if I Limit His Screen Time!

Helping Children Deal with Tragedy in the News