There you are, at the playground or on a play date, happily minding your own business when your toddler runs up to you with the following report: “Jimmy hit me.” Toddler tattletales are a double-edged sword. Of course you want to know if your child is in trouble, but if he’s dragging you into the middle of every fight every five minutes, that’s not only annoying for you, but bad for your child, too, since he never learns to solve his own problems.
So how do you encourage toddlers to speak up when they really need your help without going overboard and reporting every single petty spat? Here are some rules to keep in mind:
For example, Never scold a toddler for tattling. If your toddler is coming to you for the umpteen time that hour, it can of course be tempting to blow him off. But don’t do it, since they may not feel comfortable coming to a parent in a real emergency — with those, you’ll want to be involved.
Keep in mind your toddler may not want you to intervene. First, don’t jump to conclusions. “Sometimes toddlers may not be trying to tattle, but are actually just seeking your attention,” points out Scott Carroll, MD, Professor of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at the University of New Mexico School of Medicine. “You may just be really busy, and tattling is the only thing that gets you to focus on them.” So to start, put down your iPhone and try mirroring what your toddler has said: “I see you’ve come to tell me that Max hit you.” Sometimes, just making a toddler feel heard can be enough for him to return to his playmate on his own.