Children Bullying and Telling Tales: The Link

Children who tell tales are a universal pain. Children bullying is a universal problem. And I believe they are, often, linked.

Two children bring their mothers (fathers/teachers who ever) a problem, one adult says, “Stop telling tales; go and sort it out yourself.”   Second adult stops what they are doing, completely focusses on the child – they may go and help sort out the problem, they may not (more about this later). Which child is more likely to tell another tale?

It may surprise some of you: but the first child is far more likely to re-offend and become a habitual tale teller. Why? Simply, because telling tales is not about telling tales. It’s about connecting to an important adult. It’s checking in. It’s one way children use their round-about way of making sure we are as there for them as we claim to be. Children are very, very rarely direct in communicating their needs.

The second problem with telling children to “sort it out themselves” is that, if there is problem, inevitably, sorting it out means the dominant child getting their own way; or hurting the less dominant child. Also, I believe most inter-personal dominance isn’t in-your face-beat-you-up bullying, but a more subtle use of power. The choice of the adult not to intervene gives the dominant child non-verbal permission to go right ahead, and dominate.

Which neatly leads to the third problem: if the child is being bullied, or on the verge of being bullied – adults not helping…doesn’t help. (For a great way they can help check out: )


Now, I’ve been a teacher on playground duty. I KNOW how much of a pain those tale-telling children can be. Especially those with a Butterfly temperament – who just keep coming back. But, here’s the thing, when we joined our boys’ school community I met a group of people who actually stopped and listened to what I had to say. I could see in their eyes and body language that they had stopped thinking their own thoughts and were listening to whatever important information I had to impart. Now think about it. How often do you actually encounter people who do that? It completely threw me. I suddenly became aware of how much noise I make…without actually communicating anything.

So, if you encounter a tell-tale, give this a go. Stop everything, even your thoughts, completely focus all your attention on the tale-teller. Ask questions. Ask more questions. Ask until they’ve run out of information. (BUT DON’T try to solve the problem.) Then just stand beside them. One of two things will happen…they’ll stop talking and go away, ergo it was a need for connection, not a need for intervention. Or, you will realise that something needs to be done. Then, intervene. I’ll bet the tale-telling tampers off. (A child who is distraught and cannot speak is not telling tales…they need a Boring Cuddle. Quick Way to Stop Children Fussing.

If your child has a problem at school, which you suspect is either tale-telling or bullying, do the same. But also write what they say down in a notebook, and record the date. This means that your child is listened to, and you also have evidence if you have to ask teachers to step in. Of course, give them a hug too.

Children who are surrounded by adults who truly listen to them, feel connected, and people who feel connected are self-assured enough to deal with most issues. Children who are self-assured, don’t tell tales: but the do come to us when they need help. Isn’t that one of the key aims of parenthood?

Bully Proof your Children also deals with bullying.

(Should you find this article useful, Koha is accepted, $1 is fine. The button is under my blog-roll. :))


About Karyn @ kloppenmum

kloppenmum is me, Karyn Van Der Zwet, mother of three and ex-teacher. I'm part of a revolution in parenting, with the aim to raise mature (not sophisticated) and self-assured children. I also know some stuff about adults. I have also had articles printed in The Journal for The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (Children and Young People) and the US parenting magazine, Pathways to Family Wellness, as well I regularly write for World Moms Blog (named as one of the Forbes 100 most useful blogs for women 2012 &2013). You can follow me on facebook (kloppenmum) pinterest (Karyn at Kloppenmum) and twitter (@kloppenmum). I'm also vaguely on LinkedIn (Karyn Van Der Zwet). Thanks to Joe (Mr Hare) for taking the photo. Cheers, son: xxxx.
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16 Responses to Children Bullying and Telling Tales: The Link

  1. Michael G. says:

    Excellent post! Just drawing on the famous boy who cried wolf story, I think a lot of people miss the fact that the village never did anything to address the reasons behind the boys fibbing. I think it is essential that tales are not dismissed but seen as signals of issues which can be dealt with.

  2. I literally wanted to print your page out and stick it the fridge for my knight to read. A whole new mind set.

  3. faemom says:

    I’m amazed how few parents listen to their children. I was listening to parents complain about their kids asking “why” all the time, and I thought why no answer the kid until s/he runs out of questions. Really, is it that horrible to listen to your kid? And don’t even get me started on bullying.

  4. Mama Bee says:

    Interesting post. It’s funny cause I wrote a post that is the exact opposite of that. But reading your post now I realize that maybe the post I wrote is applicable to my daughter J’s personality. J would be playing a game with her older brother and they would be laughing and having a good time but the second he starts winning or if she falls then she comes running to me about it. When I let her sort it out it works better for me. I love letting my children sort it out themselves and come to their own conclusion as long as no one is being hurt. For example if they both want to play with the same toy I tell them they have to figure out a solution that works for the both of them or neither can play.
    But having said that, when they come and tell tales about something serious like being hit or teased then I always listen. But I will now make sure to ask as many questions as I can because what you says makes perfect sense, sometimes they just need help sorting out what’s in their heads.

    • kloppenmum says:

      Wow. Thanks for the long comment. I also put toys aside, if they’re causing a problem… And our Owl can come to me when things don’t go his way: I have found the waiting at the end of this process works like Boring Cuddles in that situation. Children do keep us on our toes, don’t they ?

  5. hakea says:

    Yay for listening to kids! It’s amazing what they tell us when we are prepared to listen. And they know when adults are pretending to listen!

  6. ecoziva says:

    Great post, thank you so much!

  7. Hi Karyn, I just discovered your blog. You write excellent posts and I really love this one, as I totally agree with you that listening to our kids, empathy is fundamental to raise self-assured children. I’m so glad that I found you!

  8. Julia says:

    My son has had trouble being bullied at school. I always listen to him, ask questions and arm him with possible reasons/solutions to his problems. As a result he is a very honest, sensitive young man. He is currently experiencing a tell-tale child who just loves to try and get him in trouble and take his friend away from him by telling teachers he is doing this and that wrong ie “Miss, he just threw a beanbag at so and so, Miss he’s chasing me, Miss! It is every break time, multiple times and I am writing this because my son has just been crying before bed saying he wishes he wasn’t alive because this kid lies about him. I have written it down in his home/school diary and I was thinking of asking the boy to stop it when I go in tomorrow. This type of bullying has happened once before and I left the teachers to deal with it and the result was my upset and frustrated boy was put into an emotional literacy group to deal with his crying!! The bully was given extra support and attention in class.

    • Sadly, this is the way many schools deal with bullying. I would be cautious about approaching the bully yourself, but keep the diary going and keep going back to school until the situation is resolved. I would also look at ways to extend your son’s confidence…non-intrusive eye-contact, lots of chances to take risks (even ones you’re not entirely comfortable with) and listening to him without interrupting are good places to work…even if you are already doing them. All the best.

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