By Courtney Murphy, author of

If you have more than one child at home who can talk, the words “I’m telling” probably cause you to grind your teeth and run the other direction as fast as you can just like me.  At our house, the frequency of these words usually increases significantly during the witching hour when everyone is tired, hungry and I’m trying to cook dinner.

Yesterday, one of my children actually told on his brother for….wait for it….stealing the imaginary football that they were playing with.   Mind you, they were playing an actual imaginary football game, so taking the imaginary football would probably be a legal play.  This particular tattle actually left me speechless for a second….but my child kept repeating it to make sure I heard and could issue appropriate punishment.  “You’re kidding, right?”  I asked him, “You are actually telling on your brother for taking an imaginary football in an imaginary football game?  Why don’t you just take it back?”  Probably not the best response, but seriously, an imaginary football?  What was I supposed to say?

I’ve been trying to explain the difference between “tattling” and informing me of an emergency in which someone is about to get hurt.  I explained it like this: “Tell me ONLY if someone is getting hurt or hurting someone else.  DO NOT tell me just to get your brother in trouble, because then you will both be in trouble.  Work it out together”.  They MUST get it to some degree because now, they either run to me with “So and so is humming too loud and I can’t hear myself think” or “IT IS AN EMERGENCY – so and so has climbed on the counter and I’m worried he’ll fall off!!!”  Either way, they are still telling on their brother, regardless of the type of situation…they just preface the important ones with “IT IS AN EMERGENCY!”

So, I’ve decided to try a more hands-on approach.  I’m trying, at least with the 2 oldest, to get them to talk it out together while I serve as the moderator.  After our first couple of tries, it goes something like this:

Me: Okay, settle down.  Just settle down.  SETTLE DOWN.  Now, B1 (brother 1), tell B2 (brother 2) why you are upset.
B1: Mommy, B2 is playing with that car I got for my birthday and it’s MINE.
Me: Okay, but tell B2, not me. Wait, wait, wait – that car?  The one you got for your birthday almost 3 years ago and haven’t played with in 2??
B1: YES! (sobbing)  And B2 will not give it back and it is SO special to me!
Me: Seriously?  I mean, you really haven’t played with it in 2 years!  Okay, okay, but don’t tell me.  I’m NOT B2.  Look at B2 and tell him in a calm voice why it’s special to you and see if you can work it out.
B2: But MOMMY, I was playing with it first (also sobbing now)!
B1: But, MOMMY, it’s my SPECIAL birthday gift!!

Okay, so you get the picture.  Success has not yet been attained.  However, this morning we had a breakthrough and I actually saw them resolve a very important dispute (about who was going to wear a coveted basketball shirt) totally on their own.  Hopefully, with diligence (my part) and practice (their part), they’ll figure out how to resolve at least SOME disputes by themselves and leave me to do fun things.   Like cook dinner.