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Take tattle-talers seriously

Last week, a parent wrote in with a question about a tattle-taler. "My daughter was having a playdate with some friends (ages five to eight) when one of them came and told me that my daughter had deliberately pushed another girl," she wrote.

Last week, a parent wrote in with a question about a tattle-taler. "My daughter was having a playdate with some friends (ages five to eight) when one of them came and told me that my daughter had deliberately pushed another girl," she wrote. "Although I had no way of knowing if it was true, it didn't seem characteristic. I told the girl, who is eight, that if the other girl had an issue with my daughter, she would probably come and tell me. Did I handle it right? What's the best way to handle a tattle-taler?"

Here's what our parent educators had to say:

Did you handle this well? You didn't overreact, run in and scold your daughter or scold the tattler. You kept your calm and that, in itself, is effective.

Tattling is to get somebody into trouble; telling is to get somebody out of trouble. Was she tattling or telling? If she was telling, then perhaps she was genuinely concerned and needed some help.

I may be wrong, but the tone of your response sounded defensive and didn't acknowledge the child's concerns. Do you know that her friend would tell your daughter if she had an issue? Are you certain that the child hasn't been hurt or that your daughter wouldn't do this?

Is this a pattern of behaviour (tattling) that frequently comes up with this child? If not, why assume? If so, why?

Children are being taught all kinds of conflicting messages today. On one hand, don't be a tattle-taler, on the other, don't be a bystander. Kids need guidance, support and help in understanding other people's feelings and the dynamics of relationships.

They don't have the life experience to fall upon that we do, so seeking help from an adult is healthy if a child is uncertain.

Adults need to manage these dynamics with calmness and without playing judge, rescuer or persecutor. Your message to this child was, "Don't speak up."

If you are certain that the friend who may have been pushed is OK, you can respond to the telling part of the message, "Thanks for letting me know, I'll check in with everyone in a bit to see how you are all doing."

Here you are not taking sides; you are showing that you care and you aren't feeding into the tattling, just the telling.

After a bit of space, I would check in on the girls and get your finger on the emotional pulse.

Adults need to learn how to coach children effectively and empower them to navigate through conflict. We don't do this by ignoring situations, taking sides, scolding and lecturing or being the referee. It starts with listening to each child to hear what they are perceiving and feeling.

You can do this without agreeing or disagreeing.

Once each child has spoken, you can help them identify the issue (e.g. one toy and two kids who want to play with it). This attacks the problem, not the person.

Ask them what has worked for them in the past.

This is very empowering for a child, because it comes from them and helps lock in skills that are being developed. They learn to trust themselves and this builds resilience. Once they brainstorm and pick a plan, you can back away.

Allison Rees Parent Educator LIFE Seminars

We used to think children should work out their problems for themselves. But we now know that children are often not developmentally ready to do this without support. The child who spoke to you may have misunderstood the situation or she may have witnessed an act that was hurtful to another.

At school, we tell children that if they witness someone being unkind and do nothing, they are part of the problem. We need to all look out for each other.

If, upon investigation, the pushing did not occur, then your job is to chat gently with the one who came to you to find out what was going on for her. Was she feeling left out or unhappy?

The key is to help the children in a kind and supportive way to sort through the problem, rather than to look for someone to punish.

You said one of the reasons you did not intercede was because it was uncharacteristic of your daughter to do such a thing. For this reason alone, it would be worth checking out. Is it possible your daughter was frustrated at the way the play was going and acted before she thought?

As the supervising adult, it is important to wade in to make sure everyone is OK, your daughter included.

Sometimes, things go too far and children do not know how to navigate the social waters successfully. Having an adult help them problem-solve will teach them to notice the clues that things are not going well and let them move in a more positive direction.

This does not mean you step in and assess blame.

Instead, you may simply help them change direction and remind them of acceptable social behaviour (no hitting, pushing or calling

names, etc.) At this age, children cannot be expected to navigate playdates without mishap. It is our job to be there to assist as needed.

Jean Bigelow Parent Educator School Principal

Next question:

My grandson is a wonderful little fellow (eight years old), but has the habit of "flashing/penis whirling." He has done it at school, at home, out camping, out in the playgrounds and then laughs and thinks it is very funny. I told him that he is a little man now and that is a baby habit, please don't do that and your privates are to be kept private behind your bedroom door and not broadcasted. Did I tell him correctly? What should his family and I do to correct this habit?

Do you have any advice for this parent? Are you struggling with a parenting dilemma? Send your input to Please put "the parent rap" in the subject line. Questions about kids from infants to teens welcome.