What To Do When Your Friend is a Gossip or Tattletale

February 4, 2013
What can you do about tattletales of any age?

Gossips by F. Malyavin

Recently I received a notice from my friend Toni Shutta, a parent coach in St. Paul, Minnesota, telling me that she was quoted in an article in Parent Magazine. The article was titled “Tame Your Tattletale.” I found the advice quite good for dealing with little children.

However, I realized that the advice could also apply to anyone whose friends and members of their family like to tattle on others as a way to feel better about themselves.

First of all, the article notes that “tattling” is when someone is trying to get someone else in trouble. “Telling” is informing someone that another person could get hurt or something might get broken.  Explaining that difference to children can help them understand their parent’s reaction to their complaint. Understanding that difference can be helpful in improving adult friendships as well.

You see, as the article notes, typical comments or complaints of children (and by extrapolation to adults as well) fall into at least four categories:

  • I need help solving a problem.
  • I’m very proud of myself for following the rules.
  • I want to get this other person in trouble.
  • I don’t know how to make friends.

Do you have a partner, adult child, relative, friend, neighbor, co-worker, etc., who often seems to complain about others? How do you handle the situation?

If you apply the definition of tattling and telling given above, in some cases it is clear that someone’s story is a clear case of wanting to cast another person in a bad light. In other cases, your friend really needs help.

Remember, it is one thing to sometimes commiserate with your friend whose sister gets in a lot of trouble. Reacting to her story is a way you can bond with her. Letting her know you understand her pain can help her feel better.

However, if your friend consistently complains about her sister, so you always offer her sympathy? If you do, are you unintentionally encouraging her to focus on her sister instead of dealing with what isn’t going right in her own life?

What does she really need from you? When you figure that out, she may not gossip or complain about other people quite as much.

Also, knowing how others use gossip to get attention can help stop us from gossiping ourselves. In the post on Dec. 7, “A Triple Filter Test for the Holidays,” I shared three questions that Socrates’ suggests you ask yourself when you are tempted to pass on something that you may later regret.

As our children grow older, we can encourage them to refrain from sharing something that should not be shared by asking themselves those questions.

If you have problems with young children, whether you want them to listen to you or to stop tattling, I recommend you check out Toni Shutta’s parenting program, Get Parenting Help Now, for lots of good advice in raising your children.

 Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons


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