As children perceive division and conflict between adults, they may encounter situations where they feel the need to report or disclose information about one parent to the other. * (see note below) This is commonly referred to as “tattling” and can often cause friction and tension within families. In this blog post, I will explore some of the most common reasons why kids may tattle on their other parent (or other party to the case), and provide some suggestions for how you can respond to this behavior.

First, it’s important to recognize that children are complex individuals with their own thoughts, feelings, and motivations. Sometimes, children may tattle on a parent because they genuinely believe that they are helping the other parent by revealing something that they believe is important or relevant. For example, if a child observes one parent (or stepparent) engaging in behavior that they perceive as harmful to the other parent, such as yelling or being physically aggressive, they may feel that it’s their responsibility to report it. I use a few different activities with children to help identify their self-protection abilities, as well as if they are experiencing any safety issues. I do this in a way that is not leading, rewarding the answer, or revealing what information I am seeking. 

On the other hand, some children may tattle as a way of seeking attention or validation. If a child feels like they’re not getting enough positive attention from their parents, they may engage in tattling behavior as a way to get noticed. In some cases, children may also tattle as a way of getting revenge or “getting even” with a parent who they feel has wronged them in some way. I have even observed kids telling blatant lies about the other parent, or slightly stretching the truth to imply something is much more than it was. I’ve also observed an issue with timelines in a child’s memory being an issue when we are trying to sort out fact from fiction. For example, if there was a potential safety issue in the other home a year ago, and it has since been fixed, that part might not come through in the child’s story. So as an adult, it’s up to you to keep an open mind that there could be alternative explanations. Of course, if you are grilling a child for information, or the child knows you will be “all ears” if they say something alarming, they may feel they’re pleasing you and keep doing it. Try not to respond with shock, or concern, or let the child overhear you telling others about it. 

In addition to these individual motivations, there may also be larger family dynamics at play that contribute to tattling behavior. For example, if one parent is more authoritarian or controlling than the other, children may feel like they need to tattle in order to avoid punishment or negative consequences. Similarly, if there is ongoing conflict or tension between the parents, children may feel caught in the middle and may turn to tattling as a way of trying to resolve the situation.


So, what can parents do when their children engage in tattling behavior? It’s important to listen to your child and try to understand their perspective. If they’re tattling because they believe they’re helping, take the opportunity to talk with them about what they can do to help in a concrete and positive way. For example, age-appropriate chores they can do alongside you or the other parent to contribute, asking for what fun or special things they did with the other parent during their time together, etc. If they’re tattling as a way of seeking attention, try to find other ways to connect with them and give them the positive attention they need.

It’s also important to model healthy communication and conflict-resolution skills within the family. If the adults are able to work through their disagreements in a calm and respectful way, the children are more likely to follow suit. If there are ongoing issues or conflicts between parents that are contributing to tattling behavior, it may be helpful to seek outside support from a family therapist.

In conclusion, tattling is a complex behavior that can arise for a variety of reasons. By taking the time to understand your child’s motivations and working to create a healthy and positive family dynamic, parents can help minimize tattling behavior and create a more harmonious home environment.

*Side Note: This post isn’t all-encompassing or intended to be. Obviously, you want a child to feel safe enough to disclose actual abuse or neglect. And they want to know that you will believe them. Teaching the difference between a legitimate safety issue and a parenting style difference requires time and patience. Sometimes having a child in counseling weekly can offer a professional source who is trained to assess child safety, and whom you can contact privately to express your concerns. Above all, do not ask the child leading questions, putting ideas in their head that can cause fearfulness or reinforce story-telling/tattling. 

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