Taking Offense: Is It Tattling?

 Have you ever been offended?  

It is impossible to go through life without experiencing that hurt which comes from a unkind word, or a questionable glance. When these things happen we are left to wonder and assume what the person really thinks of us and if they intended to offend.

Children especially have a tendency to take offense to small actions and words. A mother asked me this about her daughter who has a problem with being offended.

How do I help my eight year old daughter stop tattling on friends and family members? She takes offense by so many things. And, she seems to want to get other people in trouble to make herself look good. What do I do to stop this?”

The other day I had a group of children over playing at my home. One of our visitors came to me with a very pouty face and tattled on behaviors of two of the other children. The child told me that one person was rude because they told her she shouldn’t play with the toy she was playing with. Then she said another child was also mean because she said to the group, “Melissa can’t have sugar so don’t give her a candy.”

Melissa was the girl talking to me and it was true that she was not allowed to have sugar, but she didn’t like people talking about it. She thought it was rude and she was very offended.

What Did I Do?

The first thing to do, if this is a new behavior, is to check the facts. So, I called all the children together for a meeting about the incident. Melissa was given the first opportunity to tell what happened, and then one by one each child told the events of the situation from their perspective.

After listening to all the children it was very clear that Melissa had a habit of looking for reasons to be offended. The other children hadn’t done anything wrong. They told her not to play with a real cell phone and tried to honor her family rule about sugar. She was the one who read more into their words than was really there.

Adults Do This Too

Have you ever known a person to do this? I knew a woman once who was always analyzing what people did or said after the incident. She would assume a lot and often times make evil intentions appear ‘out of thin air.’ This woman had a hard time keeping friends. She was far to busy judging people to actually feel love for them and just couldn’t find anyone who didn’t eventually offend her.

Are all people rude all the time? Certainly not. She was just in the habit of seeing the world and people as offensive. Her actions were prideful and they led to much unhappiness and unrest. I felt bad for her. She had chosen so much sadness.

Step Two

After the talk confirmed that Melissa had made up her own sadness and tried to get other people in trouble at the same time I knew I needed to talk to her alone. I asked her to stay after the meeting for a talk. The very first thing I did in the talk was describe the situation and how she had chosen to react to the words said. I then gave her a rationale for why her reaction was wrong. As part of this explanation I told her it was worse to choose to be offended by another than to be the person to say bad things. I also told her how she could keep herself from not being offended next time she was tempted to feel bad about what someone said and how to know when it was appropriate to go tell moms or dads. These are the four things I told her to do.

1. Assume the best of the person instead of the worst as soon as a hurtful feeling comes. A good way to switch your attitude is to be grateful for the other person.

2. If you feel they don’t completely understand something, kindly disagree.  She could have said, “Londyn, I know we don’t usually have sugar, but we can have it sometimes.  If I ask my mom, I might be able to have this candy.”

3. Choose to be okay with not always getting your way.  And, play happy with your friends even if you thought something happened that might be unkind. I call this accepting a no answer.

4. Only go tell on people when something dangerous is happening or someone is bloody etc.  If you go tell on someone for not sharing a toy, you are most likely tattling.

Melissa looked at me with great interest when I talked with her about what I knew she was doing inside her head that would destroy her relationships, and how she could keep herself more happy by consciously choosing not to be offended. She said she would try to think better of other people.

Is Taking Offense Tattling Then?

Many times the reason our children come tattle on us is because they have decided to assume someone is being mean or rude. They want to make that other person look bad because they felt bad about what was said or done to them. Who are we kidding? Adults do this too. That’s why gossip happens.

Gossip is just tattling for older people, and we all get sucked into it from time to time. We just need to see it for what it is and opt out.

Wanting To Get People In Trouble

The example above was about a child who tattles because she has a problem with taking offense. However, the original question was also about a child who tattles just to get other people in trouble.

Little Melissa can help us with that part of the question to. She often tattles on Dad to her Mom and on her siblings to her parents in order to look good in the eyes of the parent she is tattling to, and to make the other person get in trouble.

Melissa’s mom was recently talking to me about this side of Melissa’s tattling problem. This was the advice I gave Melissa’s mom and I think it will apply to the question above as well.

1. Have a personal talk with Melissa about what you have observed. Demonstrate how it looks and sounds without being rude.

2. Tell her exactly what you are going to say when she comes to tattle to you and what her negative consequence will be. “Melissa, you are saying mean things about a family member. This is wrong. You need to stop talking. Since you chose to tattle you have earned an extra chore…”

3. Next, tell her what she should do, “…What you should have done was, notice that you are thinking bad about another person and then try to think something good about them instead and keep playing. The other option would be to disagree appropriately with the person if they are not giving correct information.”

4. Give her an incentive for controlling the impulse to tattle each day she hasn’t tattled for one week.

The Greater Offense

Tattling is often times the behavior which should take the majority of your parenting efforts. If someone comes to tattle about a bad behavior, check your facts by possibly having a short meeting, and then talk to offenders if necessary. After, you must have a talk with the person who took offense or who wanted to get the other person in trouble and assign the appropriate negative consequence which was previously decided because the tattling is just as bad if not worse than the instigating behavior.

I want to be very clear that I am not suggesting children shouldn’t ever tell parents. Reporting, which was talked about in another article, is the appropriate form of telling; and is good. Also, some things must be reported for the safety of others.

However, those tales which are clearly to hurt another person’s reputation or to justify offense are just tattling and need to be assertively addressed. Tell the person you see what is happening and then give them new things to think when offended and new ways to problem solve emotionally difficult situations. The basic skills and principles which are taught in Parenting A House United are perfect for helping youth problem solve social and family disputes.

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9 thoughts on “Taking Offense: Is It Tattling?

  1. And don’t tattle on that creepy neighbor who touches you either, tattling’s wrong and will get you extra chores.

  2. I think you are thinking in a different direction than this article is. There is a difference between tattling and reporting. I encourage and even reward reporting, but tattling has a different motivation. I have other articles on tattling vs. reporting which you may want to look at.

  3. Pretty bad psychotherapy going on here, IMO.

    4. Only go tell on people when something dangerous is happening or someone is bloody etc. If you go tell on someone for not sharing a toy, you are most likely tattling.

    Maybe it’s just the honest scientist in me, but I feel it is right to tattle when people are breaking the law, the BYU honor code, cheating or swindling a person, and if a scientist is cheating the scientific (or non-scientific) community.

    Many times the reason our children come tattle on us is because they have decided to assume someone is being mean or rude. They want to make that other person look bad because they felt bad about what was said or done to them. Who are we kidding? Adults do this too. That’s why gossip happens.

    Again, you’re no mind-reader. They MAY want the other person to feel bad, but not always. Almost always they feel bad and want to feel validated. Helping them feel validated (instead of dismissing how they’re feeling) and helping them question and come up with a solution would be far more helpful than pretending to read their mind. (Too often, too many Mormons actually believe they are mind-readers).
    “Melissa, you are saying mean things about a family member. This is wrong. You need to stop talking. Since you chose to tattle you have earned an extra chore…”
    This is only good advice if you are certain (and I mean absolutely double-d@mn sure) the things they say are not true. Sometimes the truth is mean, but choosing to punish a child for telling the truth will lead to the child becoming either chemically dependent or co-dependent. It’s frightening that anyone giving parenting advice wouldn’t know this. Too many parents cause children severe anxiety by being forced to believe non-truths. “It’s OK for [parents] to bend the truth, lie, steal, cheat… In truth, it’s not OK.”
    “check your facts by possibly having a short meeting, and then talk to offenders if necessary.” Sometimes children lie in groups. I hope you have some experience knowing that a meeting doesn’t always share the truth. Truth isn’t decided by majority either.

  4. I don’t want to wade into the psychotherapy bit there, and I’ll just add my own 2 cents on trying to design a “system” where kids learn what they are supposed to learn. I see two extremes, and I am not accusing the author or anyone of falling into either, but just pointing out what I have observed in myself so I can be careful.

    One extreme is the approach that has lots of rules and punishments. The goal here seems to be rule breaking must be punished frequently and quickly in order to ensure proper behavior.

    The other extreme is the approach with no clearly defined rules and then arbitrary punishment depending upon case by case (and often subjected to our mood at the time…although both approaches are certainly affected by our mood)

    I think sometimes I forget that if I look at life as the test that I need to experience, I need to be careful about creating additional arbitrary rules. It’s quite a satanic-approach for someone to approach life with the expectation that every good deed will be immediately rewarded and every bad dead will be immediately punished. And yet, I find myself often gravitating toward parenting that does just that. Isn’t that just a micro-application of Lucifer’s plan? I will not speak for others. I can only say when I feel a clear warning in my heart that may instinctual desire for rules and frequent carrots or sticks (benign ones!) is ancient desire present before the foundations of this world were laid, perhaps ingrained within the mind of all intelligent things.

    And yet, I know that there are clear rules, clear consequences, etc. The god-like task is to recognize when to forgive (always and often and not just in word but deed!), and how to work out the rules God gives me and apply them without needing to create additional structure which treats children like parts in my own personal factory. We’re already in a factory designed and administered by the most high God aimed at exhalting all (un)worthy and intelligent beings. No need to create an additional “factory” one in my own house that has it’s set good grades, good jobs, etc.! At least that’s my take. Put the kingdom of God first in word and not deed… (and it’s an exhausting task to try which is why I always seem to fall back on the other techniques).

  5. I think I essentially agree with Chris. I think helping the children embrace forgiveness and love for one another is key here. How that teaching is gone about is, of course, up to the parents and I think individual adaptation may be necessary on a case to case basis, but I think instructing the children thus is essential.

  6. Thank you for your comments. We are all coming from different places here. I have parented many difficult children and teens through a very reputable foster/therapy agency for years, which the LDS church happens to be on the board of. I have parented compulsive liars, kleptomaniacs, children with many anger, social and behavioral issues as well as many children who have been severly abused. I know how to work with abuse, but this article is not about that. This article is for the parent who has a child obsessed with power struggling with siblings for environmental control. A child who tells on her parents to try to put one parent against another. A child who cries every time a person doesn’t give her what she wants. This advice is for real families who have real children that like to tell on everyone to seem good in their parents eyes.

    Some children are led to believe that the best way to look good is to make another person look bad. When they are convinced of this they often even manipulate situations to find something to tell on. This is real life. I have four children of my own, teach many school classes for children and have fostered numerous children with many issues. I have found, from my own research, that there is a difference between children who are trying to create feelings of contention and self pity in the family, and a person who needs to talk to an adult about an issue. The tone in your home and in your voice during all parenting interactions, negative or positive, is what shows your child you can be trusted with any conversation or topic.

    If your child is afraid of an extra chore, then you need to do more family work together. If you don’t want to do work together to build their character and work ethic, then I would suggest using a point system or something similar. However, speaking again from experience with such systems with the treatment organiztion I was certified to work for, point systems are not meant to be a permanent system. They are too complex for a parent to do for 18 years. You need to have another family government system in place for regular life. Point systems are for conquering initial, severe behaviors, but the youth should graduate to a system more natural.

    Samuel Smiles says, “Work is the antedote for a sick character.” I belive this and have seen it to be true. I had multiple foster children who didn’t like work and were whiny and emotional about it. However, after working as a family for a few weeks their confidence increased and they found satisfaction in a job well done, even if they did earn it as a negative consequence.

    About Satan’s plan. Satan’s plan was that no one has a choice. God’s plan is that there is a choice but with each choice there are consequences. It would be naive to believe that a plan of no consequences is God’s plan. If I am immoral, I can’t take the sacrament or could be excommunicated. I know that and choose not to be immoral. The BYU honor code works the same way.

    I know there are many textbooks and progessive ideas out there about parenting. Dr. Spock convinced parents not to parent but to be a friend instead. Later, he admitted even he was wrong. This philosphy led to the abandonment of a few generations of people and to many social ills, such as the lack of respect for parents. The world needs parents who are there and are nurturing their children toward what is good, right, and true and are developing good, open relationships. Communication is the key to this. The article above was about an isolated incident. I posted it because I felt that many parents who are frustrated with a child who is always whining, crying, and telling to get their way or to make someone look bad to make themselves look good could get some help from the advice I shared.

    If you want the Complete Picture of my parenting style and help with other difficult behaviors you may want to check out my blog http://teachingselfgovernment.com

    Thank you for your comments.

  7. This is a odd piece. The behaviors that you are describing is exactly what bullying is.

    There was an NBC special last night dealing about the very issue. In the piece they had set up they had both girls and boys in different scenarios. Two children were actors playing a part and third person playing the victim. They then had two unsuspecting kids who didn’t know what was going on The facilitators were viewing the situation from another room(they had hidden cameras in the room) when they came back in the room only one girl told on the other girls who were being mean to the one outsider. Everyone else looked away and or said nothing.

    I have experienced this kind of behavior by adults first hand at Church of all places. Two months ago prior to getting up to give and bear testimony I was sitting next to a woman and we struck up a conversation. I happened to mention that I have issues with anxiety and depression and like being first when I speak so I don’t get nervous. She totally twisted everything around and started to tell me that I have Satan in my heart and don’t have enough of a relationship with Christ and shoved scripture in my face to support her claims. Mind you, I told her to stop, but she kept going.

    I said something to the Bishop and only did he decline to speak to her, but also forbade me to confront her. This in my opinion is disgusting. I made know promise to him that the next time she put me threw this crap that I would confront her right there and then

    My purpose for telling is is two fold. If you don’t want your child to tell you what is going on you run the risk of your child not only becoming a bully, but also being victimized by a bully.

    This is not the first time this behavior has happened to me at church. I had asked my home-teacher to stop doing something that was annoying me. His response was immediate. He told me I had hateful intolerant positions and had severe emotional psychological problems and because he was once a Bishop he had the right to tell me these things. When I reported the behavior my BP refused to do anything about it. I’m sorry, but this is the very definition of Ecclesiastical abuse.

    I guess what I’m trying to say is that reporting and tattling are two very different things and make sure you know the difference There is a fine line.

    I have had many other instances where I was abused by a elderly sister at work. Things you wouldn’t tell or talk to another human person. She said these things to me in the presence of leadership and no one has ever done anything, in deed they pretend that nothing has gone on. This is odd to me. Its’ because of these instances of leadership looking the other way, thereby condoning the behavior.

    I have alot more that I could say about this OP but I’m still shaking thinking about the show I watched last night and thinking about what I’ve endured for the past 5 years at church its ridiculous and that is not tataling

  8. That is a very sad story. Thank you for sharing it with us.

    I still think some of you are thinking that I am encouraging children not to tell their parents things. Or not to come to their parents or teachers when there is a social problem. I am not. The article is written to help children who are bullying other children in order to get their way by tattling, or bullying their parents by tattling on another parent. This behavior is very destructive for anyone. Children will not be respected by their friends or family members if they are constantly trying to stir pots and create contention. Learning this skill, not to try to create drama and tension, is a skill which leads to happiness and respect from others.

    Recently, people have changed the semantics of the word tattling to mean telling someone something. That is not what tattling is. Tattling is a form of manipulating to get your way or to try to make yourself appear better than another. That is how I view the word tattling. Regular talking to parents about life, situations and concerns is not what the article is referring to. If a family has a problem with a child trying to get people in trouble to manipulate to get their way in a game or for a toy etc, then this article is for them.

    A home or class environment should be completely open and the lines of communication should never have fear attached to them. One of my most famous sayings is “Home should be the safest place to make mistakes.” This is how our home feels: safe. Even if our children tattle, we don’t make a big deal out of it, we just help them learn how to handle the situation and disagree appropriately with the sibling or friend to get the toy they want. This teaches them self-government and helps them seek to understand the other person too when they are concerned about getting their way in a game.

    The article is not talking about serious things like bullying, harassment, or physical actions. This is actually why I mentioned the “blood” thing. Situations like these have to be told about and talked about.

    This is what tattling actually is.

    According to Webster’s 1828 dictionary the word tattle means: “To prate, to talk idly, to tell tales”

    Tattling means, “Talking idly, telling tales.”

    A Tattler is, “an idle talker, one that tells tales.”

    So, should tattlers learn how control their impulse to tongue shake? Yes, they should be told when their hearts are in the wrong place and be instructed about how to fix the character flaw.

    But, should a person tell parents things which they think are wrong or concern them? Yes, this is called reporting and it is good. I said this in the article but the semantics were obviously misunderstood because of popular psychological discussion of the term in its new meaning.

    I understand that in most people’s mind tattling means telling ,or talking to, but that is not actually what tattling is or what I was classifying as a problem.

    Gossips and back-biters always get into social trouble because they tattle. I say help children learn not to do this at a young age to help them be socially secure and not vulnerable to victimization. Often times the way people present their tattle is with a feeling of offense. This is why I brought up the part about offense. People are often trained to take offense. Some offense is understandable, but much offense is a damaging skill which has been learned as a mechanism to maintain pride. All are destructive and need to be released. People need to learn how to handle offense. It affects us all, so analyzing it and releasing it an essential life skill for happiness.

    I say, cast off all these feelings of resentment and judgment toward others and love instead. Assume the best in casual conversation. Choose your responses and you will always be the one in control of yourself. If someone tries to force control over you, talk to someone about it. I could go on and on. This is actually a really deep issue. I have almost completed a book on it in fact.

    But, for the purpose of this article, the most important thing to understand is the true definition of tattling, and that it becomes tattling when a person’s heart is manipulative. This is what you have to look for. If you see your child is manipulating, teach them not to tattle. If they want to talk to you, even if it is a tattle, always listen of course, because that is good parenting.

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