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No One Likes a Tattletale

A few weeks ago tattling was discussed at the girls’ preschool — they read a book about it or something. And I really wish they hadn’t, because it seems to have launched a full-scale tattling epidemic in our household.

“Mommy, Elsa called me an egg head!”
“Mommy, Clio grabbed the book I was gonna read!”
“Mommy, Elsa hit me!”

When this happens I am, naturally, a little annoyed at the perpetrator (or angry, if it seems there’s been hitting or kicking) but to my surprise, I actually find myself feeling just as annoyed with the tattler. I want to say “Man up! Grow a pair! Strap one on!” And other sexist exhortations which imply that to be female is to be inherently passive and timid.

Of course, I don’t say these things. Not really because they’re sexist; I have been known to say them in other contexts, jokingly. But because you really shouldn’t tell your four-year-old to strap one on.

I do, however, tell the tattler that they need to try to figure it out on their own. Use words. Ignore (in the case of egg head). Hit back. Wait, no, scratch that.

The hitting thing is the only case where I feel like tattling is understandable. But I am still hesitant to give the hitter a time out in this situation, since I didn’t witness it myself. Of course, if the tattler is bleeding, it would be a different matter. But that almost never happens.

On the other hand, I do sort of appreciate it when Clio—and in this case, it is always Clio, who is all about rules—informs on Elsa doing something she absolutely shouldn’t be doing, like drawing on the coffee table. I don’t think she’s trying to get Elsa in trouble. I think she’s trying to save the coffee table.

Which brings us back to the very definition of tattling, according to Mother Bear, of the Berenstain Bears from whom I get all my parenting techniques: She says, in The Bernstain Bears Learn About Strangers, that tattling is telling on someone to get them in trouble.

In the book, Sister Bear has told her parents that Brother Bear almost got into a car with some weird guy with a remote control airplane, before she stopped him. Which, according to Mother Bear, isn’t tattling. Because, I guess, it was an opportunity to have a chat with Brother Bear, reminding him not to get into cars with strangers. (But if I were him, I’d still be pissed at Sister Bear. Wouldn’t you?)

So, telling on Elsa doing something like drawing on the coffee table isn’t exactly tattling, according to Mother Bear. Or is it?

But I ask you, Mother Bear, what’s the best way to put the kibosh on the constant tattling and get the girls to work stuff out on their own, besides just repeating it ad infinitum (which, in all things parenting-related, seems to be basically the only thing that works, eventually)?

Help, Mother Bear. Help!

PS I think I want a WWMBD bracelet…  Or maybe a WWCHD?(Claire Huxtable.) Or WWCBD?  WWJCD? WWEKD?  Hey, I’m sensing a business idea here….

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