The Reason I Let My Children Tattle

how to handle tattling

My oldest child is a tattletale. He’s an expert rule-follower that makes it his business to keep his little sister in check. It might sound unusual, but I absolutely love it.

In our family, it’s not just the parents that take care of the kids. We all take care of each other. That means when we come in from a long day of play, the big kid takes off the little kid’s shoes. After dinner, the little kid carries the big kid’s dishes to the sink. When we walk in public, they take the buddy system by holding hands with each other. 

I never say “mind your own business” when they start reporting each other’s misdoings.

Because as a family, our business is commingled. This business is simple: taking care of each other. 

Therefore, I let my children tattle. I expect them to help me enforce the rules. The rules exist for the greater good of us all–not just for the grown-ups. It takes a village and a family is the foundation of that village.

If we are in a public restroom and I get a report of the little kid rubbing her hands all over the filthy bathroom floor, I suggest the big kid help her to the sink to wash. I don’t make myself the lone-problem-solver in the family because I want them to be adept at helping each other solve problems.

I am careful not to avoid conflict or jump in to fix everything.

Even though I prefer not to mediate conflict, I do welcome it. I buy one of each toy so they are forced to share. I made the bold move of putting the car seats next to each other. I let them duke it out. I don’t expect them to get along all the time, or even most of the time. But I expect them to have a sense of responsibility when it comes to taking care of their family. I expect them to have each other’s backs. 

And I am not talking about playground fights. I am talking about shared responsibility and loyalty.

I am raising my children to love and care for each other, although in the process–I will admit–often they don’t like each other very much.

Thus is the nature of intimate relationships. In intimate relationships we feel a vast range of emotions. Learning how to process and handle these strong emotions is the major task at hand when it comes to siblings. The sibling unit is the formative way that we learn to negotiate peer relationships. This is the very first chance our children get to practice conflict resolution, problem solving, and most important: forgiveness.

Relationships take practice. Trust me when I say that our kids need lots of practice. The beauty of sibling relationships is that they blossom in the privacy of home. Siblings can awkwardly stumble through conflict and find the way to peace…all in the comfort and safety of your house. This way they are near-experts at these tough relationship skills when they venture out in the world and form meaningful bonds with peers.

As our children build the sibling relationship, they will tattle. The “tattling” itself should not be a rule infraction, but instead an invitation to encourage kids to work together and teach each other.

My big kid is my eyes when I am not there. He is teaching his sister about the rules of the family and in the process helping to keep her safe and secure. When he tattles, I empower him to intervene and teach her the rules himself.

Therefore, when it comes to siblings, I emphasize shared responsibility and welcome conflict.

So the next time you are stopped next to me at a red light and you see my kids kicking each other and screaming in the back seat–please know that it’s all part of the master plan. But if you would roll down your window and toss me some ear plugs, that would be amazing.

Denaye Barahona

Denaye Barahona is a loving wife and mama of two. She's a therapist for moms, an author, and the host of the top-ranked Simple Families Podcast. Denaye holds a Ph.D. in Child Development and is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. She has been featured on the likes of The Today Show, Netflix, The Wall Street Journal, Real Simple, Forbes, and numerous other media outlets.