Maybe it's not such a good idea to tell our kids not to be tattle-tales. I mean, at least when they are little. I don't think they grasp the difference between telling that their sister or brother didn't eat their vegetables and when someone hurts them. You tell a kid not to tattle, and he's not going to tell you anything anymore.
About four days ago my son came home from school with a sore cheek. Just one. It hurt when you touched it even slightly. When we asked what happened this is what we got,
"So, it just started hurting all by itself?"
"Yes, all by itself."
This is the day immediately following his "I'm too slow" day. Now, I know that there's no way on earth that a check just starts hurting all by itself (unless you've got a cold sore, and he doesn't).
"Did you bite it while eating food?"
"Did anyone hurt you?"
"No. It just hurts all by itself."
I'd dismiss it, if the cheek didn't hurt for DAYS. I tried and tried and tried talking to Richie to figure out where the injury came from. My kid would make a great accomplice to crime because man is he hard to flip! Eventually, yesterday in the car on the way to Grandma's and Grandad's house I got him to tell me exactly what happened. He provided the first and last name of the kid who poked him and told him he would be in trouble and go in time-out.
The problem now is, the kid probably doesn't even remember he poked Richie, and by the time he gets back to school where I can talk to the teacher, a week will have passed. Young kids need consequences immediately following an action, otherwise they will have no clue what they are being punished for. What was more important than getting this kid in trouble, was letting my son know he could tell me anything and that he would never ever get in trouble for someone else hurting him- even if they tell him he will.
6 Rules for talking to your kids about possible confrontations:
1) This is not the time to make sure your kid is sitting up straight, looking you in the eyes, or speaking clearly. Avoid anything and everything that would make your child feel like they are doing something wrong- unless you don't care if they tell you what happened.
2) Assure them that NO ONE is going to be in trouble (this is a time I think it's O.K. to lie to your kids). Sure, someone might actually get in trouble. If it's an adult that hurt your child, they will definitely suffer consequences. If it's another child, they might get into some trouble, too. But, often kids don't want to be the one causing anyone else to "go in time-out" and will keep incidents to themselves to protect the perpetrator.
3) Assure them that NO ONE has the right to hurt them physically or emotionally. There's nothing that they could ever do that warrants someone putting their hands on them to cause pain. Why? Because they are special and they deserve to be treated respectfully.
4) For little ones, explain that kids sometimes just don't know how to behave correctly, and if an adult like a teacher or parent doesn't explain to them the right way to behave they won't learn.
5) When your kid does open up, praise them for their honesty. Thank them for telling you, and reassure them that no one is in trouble, especially not them. Remind them that hurting other people is wrong and it's O.K. to tell Mommy or Daddy anything without fear of being punished.
6) Trust your gut. If you think someone else caused your child pain, you're probably right. It may be as simple as another kid said something mean or hurt them on the playground. Just like it is for adults, it's helpful for kids to talk about their feelings when something bad happens to them. What may seem minor to you may mean an awful lot to your child.
With bullying becoming an increasingly big problem, communication between parents and children is key. I worry what will happen at school if my kids are the target of bullying. Will they come to me? Will they tell anyone about it? A child needs to feel safe to tell you anything and to know that there is no shame in being hurt by someone else. That the only one at fault when they get hurt is the person who hurt them. Putting this to practice for minor issues could save us from a complicated road in the future.