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The Difference Between Tattling and Telling
Tattling is probably the first interpersonal issue a parent faces other than kids not wanting to share, and it can last well into adulthood if it keeps paying off for the individual. Tattling is not the same as telling, although you may use the phrase "telling on" to describe it.
When a child tattles, most often the motive is manipulation of a situation. The child has tried to get something and was refused or out-voted, or has perhaps been excluded from play or has observed another child breaking the rules. When a child tattles, they try to make it seem as though they are doing the adult a favour or fulfilling an obligation. Often they beat around the bush about it, rather than coming straight to the point. They will often highlight their own good behaviour, in contrast to the offense the other has committed.
Telling, on the other hand, generally feels more genuine. The child may use fewer words or may seem distressed, as opposed to the tattler who presents his case triumphantly and is obviously expecting the adult to support him by immediately intervening or punishing the other. They get a little thrill from seeing the other child laid low.