In praise of tattletales

In Praise of Tattletales

I am getting tired of people telling little kids not to be tattletales. Six is a tattletale and I am glad. When he handles conflict on his own, sometimes it get physical. His brain is not yet fully developed enough to handle the flood of emotion he feels when another kid does him wrong. He lashes out. And then he gets in terrible trouble and worse than that, he has hurt someone.

Six’s kindergarten teacher constantly scolded him for being a tattletale. But what other avenue did he have? There is no kid court out on the playground with the knowledge and experience to adjudicate disputes. Oh wait. There is. The goddamn adults.

I understand if there are kids who constantly tell on other kids even though they have the skills to deal with disputes without resorting to violence. That is a different problem than the one I am talking about. Six doesn’t have the ability to consistently deal with conflict in a nonviolent fashion. Not yet. He will. He’s getting there but leaving him out in the wash of little kid society without backup seems cruel. Especially since the adults who deal with him know he resorts to violence when he feels overwhelmed by his feelings.

Does this sound familiar? Grown men have this problem. Lots of them. Instead of going to a third party to help them deal with a situation that triggers strong feelings, they resort to violence against the person they perceive has done them wrong.

Six is a person of strong feeling. That isn’t his fault. How he processes and handles those feelings, that is his responsibility. And we are working on that. But since the age of about 4, this is what he has been told:

  1. Handle your conflicts on your own.
  2. You handled your conflict wrong and are now in trouble.
  3. In times of conflict, don’t go to an older, more experienced party for guidance. You’re on your own, we aren’t going to help you figure out how to handle your feelings in situations that you have proven you can’t handle without resorting to violence but remember…
  4. Handle your conflicts on your own.
  5. You handled your conflict wrong and now you are in worse trouble.
  6. But don’t go to an older, more experienced party for guidance when you find yourself in a situation that upsets you. You’re on your own, we aren’t going to help you figure out how to handle your feelings in situations that you have proven you can’t handle without resorting to violence.
  7. Handle your conflicts on your own.

Anyone see a pattern? And now the kid is in junior high and getting expelled and then they’re in high school and getting hauled off to juvenile hall and then they’re 19 and in prison. But we cured them of that tattletale habit, which is good since everyone knows no one in prison likes a snitch.  

Can we please allow children to come to us and tell their tales of woe? And for the kids who have proven they can’t handle conflict on their own, let’s be extra aware of them. Let’s be there for them when they are in situations they can’t handle and come to us for guidance.

Yesterday I had a difficult conversation with Six. I told him that his kindergarten teacher had been wrong. They had been wrong in not letting him come to them when he was unsure whether or not someone was doing something wrong.

“Be a tattletale. I give you permission. Do you understand?”

He nodded, wide-eyed.
“Adults are here to help you figure out how to be a good human. Good humans don’t hurt other humans.”

“Sometimes adults don’t want to help,” he said. “Sometimes they tell me to go away.”

“Then find another adult. Someone will help. You are not alone out there.”

I made a mental note to write an email to his new teacher. ‘My kid’s a tattletale but I think he might have a good reason. Could we talk about it?’

Six smiled and hugged me, “Okay mommy. Can I have a cookie?”

That moment was the highlight of my parenting career with Six thus far. I will not have Six end up an emotionally stunted, violence prone man because a bunch of us adults told him not to be a tattletale.

One male friend of mine said that Six will get beat-up for being a tattletale.

We’ll burn that bridge when we get to it.

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