Tattle Tales: The Moral Compass of a 4 Year Old


The Princess has been officially labelled “The sheriff” of her kindergarten class.  She stands behind her teacher at circle time and “scowls” at the children that are not listening to the teacher.  And everyday I receive a play-by-play of the events of the day.  I have a tattle tale.  At first I became slightly concerned by this behaviour, as frankly, no one really likes a tattle tale.   Then upon researching, I came to find out that developmentally, this is exactly what she is to be doing.  In a 4 year old’s social development, tattling on friends is just another normal, while irritating, stage that unfortunately lasts for about a year.

Children at this age are very aware of rules and don’t necessarily like it when other children do not follow them, so they tattle.  Sometimes they are being picked on or bullied, so they tattle.  What is a parent to do?  I have tried to explain that unless someone is getting hurt or is hurting her directly, the consequences of that behaviour is none of her concern.  I also have tried to teach her to try to solve these said issues without asking for an adult to intervene.   I understand that her tattling is her way of navigating her moral compass.  When someone else shoves, or curses or does something deemed “inappropriate” she is sure to let people know that it is “bad”.  I feel comforted at least that I know that she has a grasp of right and wrong, I just have to curb the tattling behaviour.

Did your children tattle and how did you change that behaviour?

8 responses »

  1. I distinguish between tattling (telling on someone to get him/her in trouble) and telling (letting an adult know that someone is hurt or upset or needs help) and asking for help (requesting that an adult help you and a peer work out a conflict). Four is still a little young to understand the differences but you can always introduce this language and reinforce it over time until she is old enough to truly understand the differences.

  2. Well, normally, mine are the ones being tattled upon *eye roll*

    but when the did find themselves in the other seat on rare occasion, I just said “are you telling, or tattling?” Telling – like you mentioned, meant someone was in a likely dangerous situation – either for themselves, or they were hurting someone else. Thus, yes – get a grown up. Otherwise, it’s just tattling and try to resolve the issue yourself. If you cannot, walk away. Let it go.

  3. What a fun blog! As the mom of both a tattler and “tattleree” I often wonder what motivates both of them! One is a stickler for rules who draws comfort from what’s predictable, the other marches to the beat of her own drum. Is there a good, bad, right or wrong in the behaviour? I noticed when my tattler goes off on a rant there’s usually something more underneath and I try to stay curious about what’s setting her off. Experience has taught me that most time it’s never about what it seems!


    • My little one is a very strong independant girl. She can easily play by herself ut not at school they call her “The Sheriff”. She makes friends with the bad kids and reports to the teacher. I wish I could say I wonder what inspired this behaviour, but I know that when she struggled to adjust to kindergarten, most of her peers ostracized her so I now think that the behaviour is under control, she now feels like it’s her job to ostracize the other students for their bad behaviour.

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