As annoying as tattling is, you don’t necessarily have to discourage it, suggests a study of 3-year-olds at the University of Virginia. Yes, your child may tattle to get out of trouble or get back at her brother, but she also might do it because she cares about social norms. Following rules is important to young kids. They know it’s best to tell an adult when someone breaks rules rather than fix the problem on their own, say the researchers.
That said, let your kid know she should tell an adult only when someone’s hurt or in danger—not when her big bro won’t let her join a game. If she tells you he’s eating pasta with his fingers, say, “Yes, we use a fork to eat,” but talk to Pasta Fingers after dinner when she isn’t there, says Betsy Brown Braun, a child-development and behavior specialist and author of Just Tell Me What to Say. You’ll validate that her observation (however small) is correct, but you won’t reinforce the satisfaction of turning him in.
Even if she runs to tell you he hit her, ask, “Should we see a doctor?” If she’s truly in pain, tend to it, and deal with him later. She was right to tell you. But if she isn’t hurt, reiterate your rules about hitting, and stay with her as she tells him how she feels. With practice, she’ll know when to handle squabbles on her own and when to get help.
This article originally appeared in Parents magazine as "Understand Why She Tattles"