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The Pros & Cons of Tattling

"Katrina tore a petal off the sunflower," reports your 4-year-old. "Trevor won't let me use his baseball bat," declares her 5-year-old friend. Most kids begin to tattle around age 3 or 4. Some become repeat offenders; others resort to it only on occasion.

Why the finger-pointing? Though it seems to be an unattractive trait, tattling has a positive side: Sometimes preschoolers are trying to show that they understand rules and their consequences.

However, they will also spill the beans for less noble reasons  -- such as to get even with someone who's been mean to them or to boost their own self-esteem, says Marc Summers, Ph.D., a child psychologist in Rockville Centre, NY.

Serious vs. minor offenses: To curb your child's urge to tattle, teach her the difference between a serious infraction (such as hurting someone) and a minor one (like sneaking an extra M&M). Tell her that she should always inform you if someone else's actions make her uncomfortable, or if a person could be  -- or has been  -- injured. Otherwise, says Summers, encourage her to first try settling squabbles on her own by saying, "Stop that," "I don't like that," or "That's not right."

When your child does come to you with a tale to tell, such as when a friend takes an extra turn at a game, say, "You're right. He shouldn't have done that, but that's something you should work out with him. Tell him you don't like it when he plays out of turn."

If your child persists in tattling, just be patient; the go-and-tell stage usually begins to fade in early elementary school, when it's suddenly uncool to be a snitch.