Print   |   Back
May 28, 2012
We the Parents
The Form
by Melissa Howell

"Mom, she looked at me."

"Mom, he stuck his tongue out at me."

"Mom, she read my book while I was reading it."

"Mom, he said he isn't going to listen to what I say."

But when my daughter, in her best sing-songy tattling voice, said, "Mom! Dad bought the cheese with the chemicals in it!" I finally realized that the tattling game had largely become just that - a game. A game in which the children were winning and I was the shameful loser, the pawn in their efforts to turn someone else in as the guilty party whilst making themselves appear altogether innocent.

I needed help. So I turned to the source for all advice, ideas and commiserating. I posted on Facebook. And you know what? A "friend" gave me some great advice. I took it and ran.

I talked to the children about how excessive their tattling has become, and set some ground rules.

"Unless someone is bleeding or unconscious or in some way necessitates calling 9-1-1, I don't wanna hear about it."

And then I dropped the bomb on them: "And if you really feel you need to tell me something, you can fill out The Form."

The Form is the great advice garnered from my Facebook post. I typed up a document, designed to help the young minds in my home really think about why they are tattling and if there's a way to resolve it themselves. I printed them, placed them in a basket with a pen, and waited.

At first copies of The Form were flying off the shelves faster than the latest installment of vampire love stories. And they were almost as good to read.

Shortly after kicking off The Form campaign, I received one that read as such:

Name: "Isabel."

Date: "4-29."

Name of person on whom you are tattling: "Connor."

Reason for complaint: "Connor called me stoopid" (you've got to admit, that's a pretty funny spelling).

What do you think you should do about it? "Tell mommy."

So she totally missed the point of the final question. That's unfortunate, because what I am really going for is this: "It is not what you do for your children, but what you have taught them to do for themselves, that will make them successful human beings." (Ann Landers via Pinterest)

Bingo. That really is the essence of raising independent children who can someday function on their own. Do you make your children's beds, do their laundry, clean their room and remind them always to do their homework? Or do you work together and teach them to do for themselves, even if sometimes the consequence is an eyesore or a bad grade?

Sometimes doing for them is easier in almost every way, such as in the case of serving as the general catch-all for all attempts to get another sibling in trouble, which is really what tattling is.

In the June 2004 New Era issue that focused on bullying, Matt Watson, a therapist with LDS Family Services, wrote, "Tattling is to get someone in trouble. Telling is trying to get some help or to solve a problem."

Getting children to understand the difference is no easy task. My third grade son has been having some difficulty with a classmate at school, and he asked me to email his teacher about it. I advised him to talk directly to his friend and see if they can work it out. He came home from school that day and said he told his teacher he was having trouble with said classmate.

"What did she say?" I asked him.

"She said she wasn't going to listen and we needed to work it out," he replied.

"Well?" I asked. "Did you?"

"Yes. I told him his words were making me feel bad and he apologized and then I apologized."

"See!" I exclaimed with delight. "That's exactly what I've been trying to teach you with The Form, to work things out yourself."

It has been more than a month since I instituted The Form; I still keep a stack of them on the shelf, and my children continue to fill one out from time to time without prompting.

When something really needs to be told, I'm there to listen and help. But when someone attempts to tattle, it's nice to have The Form as a go-to in order to remind disgruntled children that they can either fill out The Form, work it out themselves, or simply find something better to do with their time and energy - and mine.

Copyright © 2024 by Melissa Howell Printed from