It’s normal for children between 4 and 5 years old to go through a snitching phase. However, when your little tattle tale is constantly tugging on your sleeve and whispering in your ear to snitch on their siblings or friends, it can become very annoying. Snitching shows that your child can distinguish between right and wrong, but they need to know that it’s not always appropriate: children tend to snitch for the wrong reasons, such as a desire for adult attention or to get others in trouble.
When your children start primary school, they are peer-oriented and comfortable expressing themselves in words, but still lack the social skills to solve conflicts independently. This is why snitching is so common at their age.
Here are five ways to snitch-like behaviour, and how use it as an opportunity to help your child learn how to resolve conflicts on their own.
- Assess the Situation
Before you decide that your child has turned into a fully-fledged snitch, take stock of the situation.
Talk to your child so they understand the difference between telling and snitching. Let them know that you will always be there to help them if they come to you needing assistance in solving a problem or social conflict, or when they feel worried or scared. However, explain that you don’t want them constantly and unnecessarily bringing minor grievances to your attention – particularly if the intent is to get another child into trouble.
- Nip It in the Bud
If your child is coming to you for every little problem with their peers, it’s important to stop the behaviour before it escalates. Patterns are formed if an adult continually steps in and mediates a situation. That means your child will continue tattling, and won’t learn the skills to deal with situations on their own. Once you notice a tattling pattern, form a plan to correct the behaviour before it becomes a habit.
- Teach Conflict Resolution Skills
Instead of stepping in for your child and taking care of the situation for them, encourage your little one to problem-solve and resolve the situation independently. At first, you’ll need to coach them a little. Say something like, “I understand that you want that toy first. How can you decide to take turns and be fair with your friend? Good plan — tell him he has five more minutes and you will have your turn.” The next time they come to you with a complaint, encourage them to think of a strategy to try to solve it. Remember, the goal is to coach them into a new habit of trying strategies first and coming to you only when the strategies don’t work. Of course, this process takes time, but in the long run it will teach them to be far more independent.
- Think About Underlying Motives
Children don’t always tattle because they lack social skills. Some children display this behaviour when they’re dealing with unpleasant emotions, such as feeling left out or overlooked. Take a moment to reflect on the issue and share your observations with your child in order to open up a dialogue. For example, you could say, “I noticed you’ve been complaining about your brother a lot lately. I wonder if you’ve been feeling left out since we’ve been spending so much time talking about his school play.” Talk to your child about those emotions and come up with a plan to help them feel better, like spending time talking about their day.
- Ask Others for Help
It’s important to maintain consistency among your child’s carers if you’re going to change their behaviour. Share your concerns and plans to turn the behaviour around with all your child’s teachers and babysitters and ask for frequent updates on their progress.