I heard a friend say:

I encourage my child not to be a tattle tale - but encourage them to work the situation out for themselves

Several other parents in the context nodded agreement.

I had never heard this before. I was trying to think through the reasoning.

To me it seems, you want to encourage your child to be at least some degree conscientious, without being self-righteous.

Is the reasoning behind encouraging them not to be a 'tattle-tale' because:

  1. You want them not to be so self-righteous they disconnect from their peer-group?
  2. You want them not to run to parents for help for everything, but want to start encouraging them to stand on their own two feet?
  3. You want them to start to critique their feelings of conscience, so they can at start to put reasonable boundaries on it?

My question is: What is the reasoning behind encouraging your child not to be a 'tattle-tale'?

  • 1
    Non-native speaker here: I would appreciate a quick definition of "tattletale" as my dictionaries are somewhat ambiguous. I fear that a slight shift in meaning may influence the answers. Also, is the take on this dependant on cultural values? Is your question? Would parents from the US answer differently than parents from, say, Italy or India?
    – Stephie
    Commented Jul 14, 2015 at 13:02
  • @Stephie, probably: a child who tells a parent, teacher, etc., about something bad or wrong that another child has done (MW), similarly here or wikipedia. "Petze"? Commented Jul 14, 2015 at 13:44
  • Can you give a concrete example? It could mean if an other kid steal their toy to seeing someone being abused
    – the_lotus
    Commented Jul 14, 2015 at 14:07
  • @bilbo_pingouin - it would also be fair to say that a tattletale would be a child who 'tells' or reports things no matter how trivial they are and when it doesn't affect them at all and is between others who've resolved the situation between themselves. Commented Jul 14, 2015 at 16:10
  • @JamesSnell the dfinitio is not mine, I copied it from Miriam Webster. But that is in any case something the OP should consider: what is xir definition of tattle tale, and what was xir friend's. Commented Jul 14, 2015 at 18:20

4 Answers 4


As @Stephie pointed out in the comments, the definition of tattletale can be a little ambiguous.

I think many parents encourage their children to come to them for help in resolving an issue, but don't want their children "informing on" siblings or playmates at every opportunity.

For example, Susie and Johnny are playing. They get into a disagreement, and Johnny hits Susie. Instead of hitting him back, Susie goes to her parents and tells them what happened. This behaviour is often encouraged by parents as a more constructive way of dealing with the issue than getting into a physical altercation.

As another example, Susie and Johnny have been told not to jump on the furniture. Johnny begins jumping on the furniture, and Susie runs to her parents to tell them that Johnny is "being bad" (jumping on the furniture). In this instance, Susie's motivation is not to try to find a positive outlet for resolving a conflict -- it's just to see Johnny get punished for breaking the rules. This type of behaviour is more often referred to as "tattling."

Some children can become so concerned with correct behaviour that they are constantly on the lookout, and will inform a parent (teacher, etc.) of every infraction, no matter how minor. This can be emotionally tiring for the child, because they are constantly in a state of alert, and can also be very trying for the parent, who is constantly listening to reports of extremely minor infractions.

Children don't understand that rules can sometimes be bent. There are times when we might ignore an infraction, maybe because we don't think the potential results (e.g. tempter tantrum) are worth the enforcement, or because in a particular situation the rule doesn't apply, or isn't important. The child sees only the infraction, and doesn't understand the mitigating circumstances, and these are some of the instances where "tattletale" behaviour is particularly trying on the parents.

Summary: When parents talk about discouraging their children from being "tattletales," it is likely that they are trying to discourage the nit-picking, self-serving, vigilant reporting of every minor infraction, rather then the helpful and important reporting of serious situations or important issues.

  • I think the one other thing to consider is the effect "tattling" has on the people, (not just children), who are tattled on. If the person being tattled on is punished for it, they will blame the tattler. The thought process for an adult is, "Nothing was being harmed, so it wasn't any of your business". In the end, being a tattle-tale can create many enemies, and will likely only come back to harm you. For siblings or schoolmates, it can result in an escalating rivalry of trying to get each other in trouble - which is good for nobody. Commented Jul 16, 2015 at 21:19

My understanding of being a tattle-tale is entirely subjective in that it depends on the emotional maturity of the child engaging in the behavior. I would define a tattle-tale as one who seeks an authority figure to resolve an issue that the individual should be able to resolve without the intervention of such a person. What is tattle-taling for a 9-year-old might be appropriate for a 3-year-old. Furthermore, I think tattle-taling is always an indication of some sort of deficiency/lack of maturity/confidence/etc on the part of the tattle-tale.

As to the main purpose of discouraging it, or encouraging more independent and socially acceptable ways of resolving problems, I feel strongly that the primary benefit of encouraging children to resolve minor conflicts and problems between and among themselves is to support their social and emotional development/maturity. With this in mind, I don't actually like to discourage tattle-taling as much as I like to encourage problem-solving and cooperation.

Tattle-tales are often taking on a role of enforcing someone else's rule, and may or may not understand the purpose of the rule. In effect, they are assuming someone else's values, and are not taking the opportunity to decide for themselves, stand up for themselves, or even engage in healthy or constructive conflict with their peers.


Well, one reason for sure is that "Nobody likes a rat!" ;)

To give that a bit more context I would suggest at various ages, if the child has not got over the inclination to talk to authority figures about what other people are doing, they may end up ostracized, bullied or otherwise in an unhealthy situation. You just don't know, and can't trust, the environment that other children are being brought up in.

What I would suggest for my own children is that they think about whether the situation is serious enough to warrant some type of intervention. If they are not sure they could certainly ask me. I'd want to get them to start exercising their own judgment about the seriousness of issues as soon as possible.

When they are old enough I could give them strategies for asking "what if" questions that could relate the nature of the issue and whether or not it is appropriate to bring the issue to someones attention.

For example, my son, who is a old enough to hear bad language regularly now understands that I know he hears it but he certainly cannot use such language in my house, school or similar situations. I would prefer he not use such language, however, if he finds himself in a situation where it is necessary for him to use bad language to fit in, to feel safe, or whatever in the company of his peers, then I am unlikely to punish him for it.

I remember as a child when the rule was simply "don't XYZ" and it didn't encourage a lot of thought, development of judgment or insight into how life really works.

  1. It's bad for your social interactions. Nobody likes it when someone runs to the teacher/parent/etc for every little action.

  2. It's decreases their independence. They need to learn to resolve situations on their own.

  3. It's just annoying to the parent/teacher. I've got better things to do than deal with every minor transgression my three kids.

  4. It's unkind. The reason they are reporting the behavior, 90% of the time, is not out of justice or concern, it's out of wanting to get the other kid in trouble.

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