Children's behavior can make you laugh and make you cry. They can be happy and easy going one day, and a completely different child the next. As they learn and grow, they deal with different issues that affect their behavior. Learn to understand your child's behavior and how you can help them with problems they may face.
From simple whining due to tiredness, to more serious issues like bullying, find out how to help your child handle changes in their moods and feelings. With a little preparation, you'll both enjoy childhood a lot more.
Manners & Kindness
Tips for Better Parenting
Learning to be truly kind can be a lifelong task. Studies show that the desire to help or comfort is an innate part of the human psyche, that empathy is one of our most enduring traits, but as a parent faced with trying to foster these traits in a child, you may feel like you are grasping at the utterly indescribable. How do you teach something like that?
It turns out that lessons of love and respect for fellow human beings are taught primarily by example. If you want to teach your child to be kind to others, you must do so yourself.
It is not quite that simple of course. For one thing, it can be extremely difficult to foster completely generous responses in yourself and in your home. There are many reasons; after all, for us to be less than kind to each other, especially when it comes to words. It is best therefore, to begin working on creating an atmosphere of kindness and respect around your child as early as possible. Over time you will find that it becomes easier and that you slip less. In addition to knowing that you are modeling the correct behavior for your child, you will see your life improve in many imperceptible ways.
You can begin modeling kindness, empathy, and respect at home. Take care when you choose your words and actions around your child and other members of the household. Address arguments and disagreements with modulated tones and reasonable responses. Avoid behaviors like shouting and name-calling. That way your child will learn how to treat others even in emotional situations and you will have a solid example to direct your child’s attention to when discussion the subject.
In order for your child to learn to be kind to others, they must have encounters with other people and children. This is why it is so important to arrange for play dates or even preschool. If your child is never around other children, then they will not be able to experiment with the concepts of respect, empathy, and kindness that you are trying to teach. When you and your child leave the house for any reason, be on the alert for teachable moments. Note your child’s reactions to the words and actions of others and try to relate them to appropriate concepts and ideas.
If your child displays kindness or empathy, praise them enthusiastically so that they know they have done well. If your child reacts to someone else’s misfortune by laughing however, ask them to consider how that person might be feeling and whether or not it is okay to laugh at them. It will take time to for these skills and ideas to become rooted in your child’s behavior, but you will begin to see some results right away. Just remember that this is a process and keep working to teach your child how the become the best person that they can.
Disappointment is a fact of life. Whether we are children or adults we will deal with it every day. Just like children, some adults just seem to handle it better. While some of us are knocked flat on our backs by disappointments others simply know that there are ways to cope. As parents, we should be striving to raise children who belong to the latter group.
We want our children to take the ups and the downs of life in stride so that they are happier and more well adjusted in the long run. The question is how do we do that? How do we instill a quality like resiliency in our children?
Disappointment happens. When it does, most of us are capable of realizing that it is simply not the end of the world. To a young child, however, it might very well seem that way. When your child is suffering from disappointment it is imperative that you recognize the validity and importance of their feelings. If you fail to do so, you risk identifying yourself as someone who does not understand what is meaningful to your child.
Rather than convincing them that the sky is not falling as a result of their disappointment, you will most likely convince them that your viewpoint cannot be counted upon. If you choose to acknowledge and even share in your child’s feelings you have the opportunity to convince them that you know what they are going through.
The next step is to help your child cope. People who are successful at coping with disappointment are able to be that way because they know how to use the resources available to them to solve their problems. You need to begin demonstrating this for your child so that they can learn to do it themselves. Once your child is ready to move on from their disappointment try offering them a choice about something.
Instead of suggesting to the child that you watch a movie, ask if they’d like to watch a movie or color. Exercising a little control over their universe can help your child to put things in perspective and take the sting out of their disappointment. It also allows you to begin teaching your child what they can and can’t control, which is a very valuable lesson in the long run. With your sympathy and support, you child will begin to learn how they can cope with disappointment.
As you repeat these lessons over time, make sure that your child has other people that they can turn to during times of disappointment. There may be times when your child does not or will not want to share a problem like this with you. Having someone else they can go to is important, moreover, it is an important part of navigating such situations in a mature manner. Adults who have learned that the universe is not ending are also the ones who know who can help them through troubled times.
Defiance, disobedience, and misbehavior: these are all some of the more unpleasant things our children get up to. They can be some of the worst issues for parents to deal with though. In part this is because we wonder if we will be able to enforce good behavior or whether our child will continue to ignore us and our demands.
Alternatively, we may be distressed at the thought of our child’s behavior and at the thought of causing them pain when we insist on punishing them in order to correct that behavior. Let’s face it discipline is hard. Despite that, however, it is also necessary. Experts say that discipline issues account for two of the four reasons that children become habitually defiant. If discipline for bad behavior is either too lax or too strong, children may begin to act out.
Like Goldilocks, you are looking for a way to handle things ‘just right.’ You don’t want to be too hard-nosed or too soft with your children. What you do want is to be prepared. Discipline doesn’t always have to work the same way, different children or different situations require different handling, but it does need to be swift and final. You should have some general strategies for discipline in place before you think you will need them so that when the time comes you can act accordingly.
The longer you hesitate or dither, the longer your child’s defiance continues and the more heated the situation becomes. Your child must know beyond a shadow of a doubt that their misbehavior will result in your action. Otherwise there is no reason for them to listen to you at all. As for how you discipline your child, try fitting the punishment to the crime. If your child misbehaves in a toy store or park, threaten to remove them and place them in a time out.
Once you have acted to end your child’s defiant behavior for the time being, take some time to consider what may have caused the behavior in the first place. Experts suggest that defiance can be caused by hunger and other chemical and physical stresses. It can also be caused by an outside event that has an effect on your child’s emotions making them want to lash out. Finally, your child might not mean to be defiant at all—they may simply have neglected to hear you or to recall and instruction. That is why it is important to consider the source of your child’s behavior.
You may not have time to do this before you act to stop the behavior, but afterward you should take note of potential causes and look for patterns. This can help you identify problem areas for your child and work on them before things reach the level of a power struggle between parent and child. With the joint application of swift discipline and swifter behavior analysis you will be able to work through your child’s defiance issues.
The concept of chivalry as it applies to the treatment and respect of women has taken a beating with feminism. Of course the underlying practices of chivalry, opening doors for women, helping them with packages, offering them a seat when they need it are solid signs of social respect. Unfortunately, they have also become gendered signs.
That is what has lead to the so-called death of chivalry in the modern age. Women feel it incumbent upon them to reject something that comes with the social and philosophical strings of chivalrous acts and men feel that their efforts to be respectful are not, in fact, being respected. When it comes to teaching your child manners, it is best to stay away from the concept of chivalry entirely and instead focus on teaching lessons of respect and good behavior.
No matter whether your child is a girl or a boy, you should be teaching them to be respectful and empathetic to the needs of the people around them. Go ahead and teach both your daughters and your sons to do things like open or hold doors for other people, regardless of gender. Good manners have never hurt anyone after all. If you single out the boys with rules of conduct that do not apply to the girls (and vice versa) you are not doing either group any favors.
Instead you are reinforcing the idea that they are different and sending unintentional and potentially dangerous messages to them. Girls may learn to feel entitled to respect that they have done nothing to earn, while boys may feel that their chivalric gestures entitle them to things that they haven’t earned either. This is why it is better to eschew the system entirely and focus on teaching your children manners.
Both boys and girls may open and hold doors for anyone who appears to need that service. In fact, your children may get a charge out of being big enough to help by opening and holding the door whenever they can. People are sure to thank and compliment them for it and they have all the fun of knowing they are big enough to hold a heavy door back. Teach them to offer their seats to anyone who looks like they might need them more because they are younger, older, in poor health, just plain tired, or heavily burdened.
As they grow older and can handle it, teach your children to relieve others of their burdens and assist them in carrying them. All of these lessons will help your child to learn to act as if the comfort of others is important to them. By teaching your children that, you are teaching them to exercise kindness, empathy, and respect for other human beings. It’s a rude world out there, and these qualities are never wasted whether they are exhibited by men or women, girls or boys.
We live in a society that grants us the freedom to be ourselves—to be different from others. It is one of our country’s founding ideal and one that we strive to be true to as a group, even to this day. It makes sense, then that we should want to teach our children to uphold these ideals, to see the beauty in everyone they encounter, and to learn to love and not hate others.
It may seem like a challenging message to convey at first, simply because we also live in a society of free speech, which sends messages we cannot control into the world for our children to interpret how they choose. As a parent, it is your job to intercept these messages and model the appropriate response. It is your job to teach your child to respect and appreciate the differences that make us who we are.
The first place that your child will learn about issues like difference and tolerance is from you. It is important to know that you are sending them the correct messages. You want your child to hear messages of respect and openness from you in order to encourage their natural tendencies of acceptance. Take the time to review your conversation and behavior and make sure that you are not inadvertently sending negative messages about a particular person or group.
If you are teaching your child about respect, they may come to you and ask questions about your behavior. Be prepared to own up to any unconscious oopsies and promise to amend your behavior if necessary. Otherwise you will end up teaching your child the wrong message entirely. Do what you can to expose your child to other people and ideas both in and outside of your home. This will help you to teach your child about differences in a practical manner. The more differences that you can expose your child to, the more prepared they will be to encounter others with tolerance and respect.
Your child should know to respect everyone equally, regardless of their differences. This is something that you can teach a variety of different ways, but it is another lesson that will need to be reinforced and repeated over time until your child internalizes it. You can begin, as stated above, by setting a good example for your child. You can bolster the messages that you are sending by choosing books, toys, games, and movies for your child that send positive messages about difference and diversity.
In some cases that message might simply be the inclusion of difference, in others, it might extend to a focus on how to treat difference with respect and tolerance. Even the negative messages that your child receives can be turned into teachable moments for your family’s position on differences. Use those messages you disagree with to teach your child to analyze and interpret negative approaches to difference. This will teach them how to protect themselves against such messages in the future.
Table manners form a large and visible part of your child’s etiquette repertoire. They are on display for the family every night at dinner and as your child gets older they will be eating in more and more public situations. A lack of proper table manners when the family is out to dinner or special friends and relatives come to dinner or even when your child visits a friend’s house can have serious repercussions for your child.
As a parent, it is your job to provide your child with the skills to navigate these situations successfully. Fortunately, though it may take time and patience, table manners are a relatively simple set of skills for your child to learn.
As always, when it comes to your child’s manners, you are the best teacher and role model around. Be sure that you are modeling the behavior that you wish to encourage in your child since you know that they will mimic what you do in the absence of other influences. You should begin early when teaching your child table manners, but you should also be aware of the limitations of your child. Don’t punish a child too young to hold silverware properly for using their hands, for example. Actually, you shouldn’t be punishing your child at all when it comes to table manners. Instead, take a more positive approach.
Early on, experts suggest that instead of trying to teach your child a specific set of manners you wait and catch them in a mannerism you’d like to change. This is a good time to say, “We chew with our mouths closed, like this. Not open.” That way, you have used positive language to correct your child and given them a concrete example of what to do rather than a lecture filled with an abstract set of rules. Over time, your child will learn many different rules about table manners from you, but if you impart them this way, at the dinner table, they will be more likely to listen and remember them.
Of course your child will not necessarily remember to close their mouths all the time after one single request. Instead, you will find yourself reminding your children to mind the manners you have taught them over and over. That is okay. The repetition will help them to learn the rules over time. Do not be tempted to scold or punish your child for lapses, however, you will get much better results from positive reinforcement of the lesson. Simply be prepared to offer your child a little reminder when necessary and you will begin to see them improve.
The longer and harder the two of you work at it, the easier it will get to remember and display good manners. Your patience will be rewarded and your child will learn to acquit themselves admirably whether they are at the family table or eating with company.
As parents, we are always looking for ways to how to be better at the most important job of our lives. We want the best for our children and we want to be the ones to give it to them.
Just striving to be better parents is enough in some cases, but it you are not satisfied, then here are seven ways that you can make an immediate improvement in your parenting skill set.
1. Listen to your child—The best thing that you can do to help your child navigate their emotions is listen to what they have to say. Let them feel without telling them how to feel. This will help you to communicate better with them all around as you will be able to respond to their actual, rather than their perceived concerns.
2. Know your child—You will always be the foremost expert on your child, but make sure that you take the time to earn this title. Pay attention to everything from your child’s interests to their behavior patterns when they get sick. There will be a test later.
3. Back off—Though you should always be available to your child when they need you, you also need to recognize that they do not and will not always need you. Make sure that you give your child the space that they need to grow and develop.
4. Let your child make their own mistakes—Children learn best by doing and sometimes by failing. If your child is not in danger from their mistake then it is important to step back and allow them to make it. They’re learning and you don’t want to interfere with that.
5. Accept change—In their life, your child will grow and change almost too fast for you to actually register. It is important that you be flexible because things that were true yesterday simply might not be today. This includes your child’s favorite food or color as well as the best way to get them to sleep.
6. Be a good model—You are going to be the first person that your child looks to in order to learn to be a successful adult. There will other influences in your child’s life, but your impact cannot be discounted. Make an effort to be the best possible role model for your child while you can still influence them.
7. Offer attention, not rewards—Your child needs your attention to grow and thrive and they will find ways to get it. If you do not offer your child the kind of positive attention they need, then they will learn to seek negative attention. By the same token, however, if you devalue your attention with rewards like food and toys, your child will cease to appreciate it.
Together, these seven parenting strategies can help to make you a more attentive and responsive parent. They will help you to identify and meet your child’s needs, whatever them may be, but the most important thing you can do for your child is to love them and show it.
It can be hard to let your child make mistakes. As a parent, you are there to protect them from harm while they learn and grow into healthy adults who can protect themselves. It goes against all your instincts therefore to simply stand back and let your child fail. Still, one of the most important skills of parenthood is to learn what mistakes are harmful and should be prevented and what mistakes are, well, not.
Children often learn by doing, just like the rest of us, and a part of that is failing. In adults we call it trial and error. It is important, therefore, to let your child make mistakes, even fail, so they can learn from mistakes. It’s the quickest way for your child to learn to succeed.
When your child is learning and doing, they are bound to make mistakes. This is why mealtimes with your toddler are so messy. They are learning to eat solid food, but it takes some real work to make the necessary skills come together in the right combination to achieve a successful bite of food. The mistakes often litter the eating area by the time your child’s meal is done. These kinds of mistakes are wholly without consequences for your child. No matter how many times they fail, you will ensure that they get enough food to eat. The rest is up to them. Imagine what would happen if you tried to keep your child from failing to take a proper bite forever though.
You would have to feed them yourself forever. Of course that’s if they would let you, curious toddlers are anxious to do these kinds of things for themselves so you might simply end up with a battle royal on your hands. Either way, anyone can see that it is in your child’s best interests for you to allow them to make mistakes while feeding themselves. Not only that, its in your best interests as well. This is the kind of good mistake that you do not need to begrudge your child.
There are times when you should step in to prevent the mistake your child is about to make as well. In these cases, such as when your child reaches to touch a hot stove, the lesson is no doubt valuable, but the consequences of that lesson are too high. You should always be prepared to monitor your child’s behavior and prevent them from making those mistakes that will cause real harm. These are the bad mistakes, as opposed to the ones that irritate, upset, or disappoint your child.
Bad mistakes involve lessons that your child is not ready to learn without the assistance of an intermediary. In the case of the stove, for example, you can help your child learn the lesson without harming themselves by holding their hand near enough to feel the heat and explaining the danger in no uncertain terms. Just remember not to be too cautious when it comes to mistakes, children always learn faster and better when their lessons are hands on in nature.
Times of extreme boredom can be challenging for you and your children to navigate successfully. When there are no planned activities available and the complaining starts, it can be difficult not to simply step right up with a list of activities and games that will occupy your children and, incidentally, stop any complaining. It’s natural.
You want your children to be happy and engaged rather than whining, complaining, and moping. Don’t rush to your children’s aid too quickly the next time they’re bored, though. Boredom can be a powerful teacher for your child, if you are willing to let it. It can also teach you a few things. So when boredom strikes, try to be as unhelpful as possible and instead, see what your child will come up with to occupy themselves.
The first rule of boredom is that there should be no easy answers. Do not let your child fill this time with activities that are usually restricted such as television, movies, internet time, or computer games. Your goal is to help your children engage, not to help them tune out. Try to remember also, that it really isn’t your job to entertain your children all the time. Once they are old enough to make their own fun, they should be encouraged to do it!
If you can stand back and let your children solve this problem themselves, you will see that boredom is really a way to get your children thinking creatively about what they want and how they can make it happen. For example, ever notice how the best fort making happens on rainy days? This is your child’s attempt to entertain themselves in the face of inclement weather that prevents them from going outside. Instead of getting their exercise out in the yard, your child is getting it by literally moving the furniture around to construct play areas. If they are left to themselves, children will actually learn from their boredom inspired play and enjoy doing it.
Watching your child’s boredom driven play is also a good way to learn and observe their personalities. Bored children will find themselves driven to the types of activities they most enjoy. You will be able to observe whether they are more likely to choose extroverted or introverted activities, a communal game or a quiet book. This is valuable information to have in the long term and it is an important part of coming to know your child, even as they change daily. There are even some times when it is all right for you to get involved in boredom play.
If your child asks you to play with them instead of to suggest a game or activity, then feel free to join in. Child directed time together is never something you want to refuse or take for granted if you have the option. Being a part of your child’s boredom play is the perfect way to take things from boredom to excitement.
The single most important thing that a child needs from their parent is demonstrable proof of their love. For most children, this comes in the form of their parent’s attention. If you don’t give it to them, they’ll do anything that they can to get it. Naughty or attention seeking children do not behave the way that they do because they are inherently bad, but because they need attention to grow and thrive.
Naughtiness is simply the most effective way that they have learned to get the attention they crave. They know that when they are bad and push their parent’s buttons, their parents respond by paying attention to them. They make no distinctions regarding positive or negative attention. They just want your attention any way that they can get it. It is your job to make sure that your children aren’t driven to seeking the wrong kinds of attention.
Children actually have a physiologically based need for attention. Studies show that without relationships and attention, babies have been known to suffer health complications and even die. We also know that proper levels of parental attention are connected to the body’s release of growth hormones as our children ages. For these reasons, children are very well equipped to single out the acts and behaviors that garner them the attention that they need.
It’s a simple act of survival on their part. As a parent, you need to know what kind of attention you are grooming your child to seek and respond to. There are three kinds:
Obviously the last is the most immediately dangerous. Children who do not get the attention they need cannot and do not develop properly. They suffer physical, emotional, and mental problems as a result of the neglect. What you are aiming for, of course, is to give your child positive attention, but often we find ourselves giving the exact types of negative attention that we are hoping to avoid.
In order to teach your child to respond and seek positive attention from you, you must be prepared to begin a preemptive campaign against the negative. You will need to catch your child in the act of being good, which can be much more difficult, than catching bad behavior. We are far more likely to take children’s good behavior for granted and punish their bad behavior. Still, if you make the effort it can be done. When you get your chance to praise your child, make sure that you are specific and authentic in your praise.
Don’t just dismiss them with a statement like “good job” that only invites them to feel dismissed. Instead use the opportunity to give them some real attention without demanding anything in return. Experts say that fifteen minutes of this kind of quality time can result in up to thirty minutes when your child will not need your attention. They will simply have enough for the time being.
A child’s first and best teacher will always be their parents. As a society, we have developed numerous other ways to help share the responsibility of raising our children correctly. We have schools and activities, childcare, and even several professions available to help children get the support and education that they need to become good and successful human beings. Still, a child learns most from the people that they spend the most time with: their parents.
Every minute that your child is with you, you are teaching them lessons that you may not even be aware of. This starts from the moment of your child’s birth. It may even begin before as some studies have shown that children in the womb respond to outside stimuli.
Once you know that you are a role model, it is important to strive to be a good one. You will want to lay the best foundation that you can for your child. There are a lot of things that you may want your child to learn or not learn from you. In fact, there are so many potential things to consider, that you may feel completely overwhelmed. The best way to cope is to remember that all you really need to do is teach your child to be the best person that they can be by trying to do exactly that yourself. No human being is without flaws after all.
There is no way that you can avoid making mistakes when it comes to life, let alone parenting. Your child will learn as much by seeing you fall, and then get back up and keep trying, as they will by seeing you strive. Being your child’s role model is not about succeeding or failing at any one moment, but about creating a cumulative picture for your child to see.
Of course, you can use your role to model specific behaviors for your child as well. If you are trying to teach your child table manners, for example, then you can and should demonstrate those models for them. When you do, they will be more likely to try and mimic you. They will also be more likely to remember the manners you have modeled and to feel that those manners comprise a sort of base level for normal table behaviors. All of these are excellent reasons to remember to use your napkin and keep your own elbows off of the table.
You must remember to be consistent however, as your child will notice if your manners are a pretense for their benefit or a genuine behavior on your part. Your child will be susceptible to picking up your unconsciously demonstrated behaviors as well as the intentional ones. If you are kind and respectful to those around you, your child will learn to mimic your behavior even before they understand it. Your work to be the best possible role model for your child will pay off in the long run.
You may find, in the course of raising your child, that there is an enormous volume of advice out there for you to turn to. At times this will be reassuring. When parenting doesn’t come naturally to you, and there will be times when it doesn’t, there will always be someone for you to ask for assistance. There will always be a book or a blog or an article out there to set you straight.
As you go on, however, you will begin to realize that far from being without information or support, you could quite easily find yourself buried in well meaning, but contradictory, expert opinions and advice columns. There is quite literally something out there for everyone when it comes to parenting advice and you will have to learn to wade through it to find the information that is truly useful to you.
The key to this process is your developing parental intuition.
You may be aware of many different types of intuition. We refer to a sixth sense or women’s intuition quite regularly, in fact. What we really mean is an ineffable source of information like hunches or gut feelings. It is the evidence that your brain is working on a problem and has put something together that you conscious mind has not yet accessed.
When it comes to parenting your intuition will be fed by a number of things, including the way your parents chose to raise you, but the most important source of information will be your knowledge of your own child. That knowledge is something that you should never discount. Remember that all the experts in the world lack what you have—you are the world’s only expert on your child. Use that information to your advantage when you are making parenting decisions or trying to choose between bits of professional advice and knowledge.
Parental intuition can be a powerfully ally in raising your children. For example, if your child is acting out, you can sometimes use your emotional responses to determine why. This is because you already know what kind of effect their behavior is having on you. You can use that, along with your parental intuition to determine the source of their misbehavior. A child who is annoying you is probably really seeking your attention while a child that makes you out and out mad may be looking to win a power struggle of their own devising.
Knowing these things can help you to resolve the situation happily for everyone rather than make it worse. Your parental intuition can help you in other ways as well, usually when you need to make decisions about your child or determine what makes them happy or unhappy. You can strengthen this skill even further by simply spending time with your children. This will help you to forge a deeper relationship with them and to learn more about them as they grow and develop.
In this fast paced world, we often feel like there is no extra time at all. Certainly we don’t want to have to waste time on someone else’s dawdling, but for parents of young children, its often not a matter of choice. If you are dealing with a dawdler in your home, you have the power to solve the problem.
There are a number of well-tested strategies available for speeding up your child. The key is to keep yourself and the situation under control. Don’t simply tell your child to hurry up, hurry up, hurry up or they will learn to tune your nagging out. You will accomplish nothing that way. Similarly, getting angry or threatening to punish a slow child for being slow will simply teach them that they can get your attention this way.
If they are acting out, then they will continue to use the behavior to act out and if no, well then they a have learned a new way to get to you. Overly harsh punishments for dawdling will only result in your child’s resentment rather than their obedience. Finally, don’t go the other direct and bribe your child to speed up either. This will teach them that if they dawdle long enough that you might be willing to reward them for it.
An option instead of getting upset is to give your child motivation to speed up. If you can involve them in the process of getting ready or distract them from their dawdling, then you will be much more likely to achieve the results you are seeking. Try proposing a race: “I’ll bet I can have my coat and hat on and be ready to go before you can!” By changing the routine to a game, you alter your child’s response to the situation from apathy to engagement. Similarly, you can prepare a child for the coming change in activities and give them a goal to achieve. Warn them that in five minutes you will be leaving and then provide them with a timer or a countdown. If they do not make it on time, then let them be late or miss out on the next activity. This will teach them that poor time management has consequences in their lif which results in a valuable lesson for school and work.
Finally, if your child has developed a habit of dawdling, take the time to study the situation and determine the cause. This will help you to properly handle the problem in the future. Children dawdle for many reasons. The younger they are, the more likely they are to simply become distracted or absorbed in all of the different things that they encounter in their world. Additionally, very young children are still refining their motor skills and cannot move as fast as you can, nor should they be expected to. An older child might dawdle as a way to exercise some control over their environment or as an attempt to act out negative emotions. And in the end, some children simply like to move more slowly through their day. Whatever the cause, once you have identified it, you will be much better equipped to deal with it in the long term.
Tattling can be a particularly annoying problem, especially among siblings, who are often trying to one up each other in the game of sibling rivalry. Still, when one child comes to you to tattle on the other, it can be difficult to know how to handle the situation without sending one child or the other exactly the wrong message.
If you punish the child who is legitimately misbehaving, then your tattletale learns that the behavior is effective, but if you punish the tattletale are you teaching the other child that they can simply get away with it?
The answer just doesn’t seem to be obvious, but perhaps that is because you are looking at the problem the wrong way. It turns out that the problem isn’t really about who to punish or how. It’s about nipping bad behavior in the bud.
Begin with good ground rules. Before you ever have a problem with tattling, it is important that you communicate to your children what kind of information they should be sharing with you—and what they should not. We all worry that if we punish and discourage tattling indiscriminately that our children won’t come to us when someone is behaving in a manner we really need to know about.
Make sure that your children know that you should absolutely be informed when dangerous and other serious behaviors are at issue. At the same time, discourage them from coming to you with problems they can solve themselves by refusing to take a punitive interest and forcing them to deal with the issue on their own.
If your child knows that you will respond to petty complaints with a statement like: “Don’t you hate it when so and so does that?” They will lose interest in dragging you into the matter. As for the reported misbehavior, chances are, you will have an opportunity to observe and correct it independently of your interaction with the tattler.
Despite this, you may still find yourself dealing with a confirmed tattler at one point or another. Worse, this is an epidemic that can spread from one child to another. Though it can take time to undo a habit like this, with a little work, it is possible. You can start by re-emphasizing the rules to your child, explaining that tattling is not a desirable behavior. Then you may want to take some time to determine what your child’s motivation is. Do they want attention? Are they using tattling behavior to govern their siblings and peers behavior?
Do they have a problem with a particular child? None of these issues excuses the behavior, but knowing about them can help you deal with it more effectively. For example a child who craves attention or has self esteem issues needs to be taught to look for positive attention while a child who has a particular problem with another child may need to be taught some healthier conflict resolution skills. These solutions will be separate from the way that you handle tattling behavior, but without them, your attempts will be less successful.