Kids do it a lot.
This all sounds harsh, but we do care. Really, we do. It's just that we don't want them coming to us about every little thing. To the contrary, we want them to be good problem solvers!
But here's the kicker: the main reason they want us to solve their problems is because they either (1) don't know how, (2) haven't had enough practice, or (3) the person they're trying to resolve their problems with doesn't know how/doesn't want to.
If the reason is that they don't know how, then we as adults are the only ones to blame. A child's specialty is imitation. They learn from us, and in general, we aren't the best examples of problem-solving. I cannot tell you how many times managers at various workplaces have been overloaded with work because they have to take time out of their days to mediate silly arguments between grown adults. These arguments could have very easily taken care of on their own if those involved had the basic skills and professionalism to do so.
In addition, how many times have our children heard us consistently complaining (not just venting once in a while) about someone behind their backs instead of actually talking to the person about the problem? All that teaches them is that you never talk to the person who's actually bothering you; you're supposed to talk to everyone else.
And then we get annoyed when they come to us for every little thing. What did we expect?
So how can we start to fix this?
1. Teach the difference between tattling and reporting.
Tattling is when you talk to someone about something that you could have taken care of yourself. Reporting is when you talk to someone who is capable of fixing something that you are not. That something may be completely out of your control or something that you failed at trying to resolve on your own, yet continues to be a problem..
If someone's asking for help, help! If you see someone getting hurt, do something! Said help may be in the form of physically interfering or going to get an adult to help if it's not safe to do that.
These are two things that you don't need to worry about telling anyone. If it doesn't/didn't involve you, don't worry about it. Sometimes, it's better to let other people handle their own problems. If it's an accident, then accept the apology of the other person and let it go.
There are some things that won't affect the child, but that they have been asked to bring up: Vandalism, theft, school property damage, etc. are among those things.
This one gets harder as the child becomes a teen: Many times, the one doing the vandalism, theft, or whatnot will be a friend. It's hard to report on something like that because you don't want to lose said friend...and said friend won't want you to tell. But help your children remember that a friend who's willing to do stuff like that and ask you to hide it is not a good influence in their lives. You are helping your friend more by reporting than your friend is helping you by asking you to lie.
5. Have you already tried to solve it on your own?
When a child comes to you with a potential tattle, ask him/her things like "Did you ask for your ball back?" "Did you tell her you didn't like it when she poked you?" "Did you ask him to stop?"
It's also crucial to remember that developmentally, children are not adults. Their attention spans are minimal. The logic centers in their brains are practically non-existent. Sometimes, a child trying to solve a problem will be met with a "no" or "you can have it back if you can catch me" or "try and make me." In these cases, yes, please mediate. Don't ever let a child think that despite his/her best efforts, you don't care about the issue.
On that note, they're not going to perfect their problem-solving skills the first time. Be patient as they learn and give reminders as necessary.
6. Are you telling to get someone into trouble?
Remember that most kids don't tell just to get someone into trouble. Generally speaking, they aren't that malicious. She probably just wants her ball back. He most likely just doesn't know how to get the kid who butted in line to go where she's supposed to. In addition, children are very used to telling adults things that they see. Let's say that Joey told teacher that Phoebe was running down the hall. If teacher asked "okay. what would you like me to do about it?" he probably wouldn't say "Get her in trouble." He'd probably just stand there dumbfounded because he hadn't thought that far yet.
However, if the child sees/knows of someone being bullied or abused, then he/she needs to say something. The bully/perpetrator needs to get into trouble.
7. Understand things from the child's perspective.
Yes, that ball that he took just ruined her day. The tootsie roll that she stole was hard-earned and now he's crying because it's gone.
Don't expect children to "get it" from your perspective. They're not adults. They won't. Child drama and adult drama are not the same thing. What seems like little problems to us really are big problems to them; they don't have adult experiences to compare with. We need to try to remember life from their perspectives. After all, we were all there once.
Sure, Billy took the ball Susie was playing with...but who had it first? Was Billy just trying to get the ball back that he was playing with in the first place?
Even though the odds don't point to them, girls can be the culprits, too. Don't believe the girl's story just because the argument is between her and a boy.
9. Let them see you solving problems.
So many parents don't want to ever let their kids see them disagree or get mad at each other. While it's definitely not good for children to believe that Mommy and Daddy are always fighting, it is good for them to see their parents resolving things in a responsible manner. It has been shown time and time again that what children retain the most throughout their lives was learned at home/among family. If your children were there when the problem started--be it with a family member, neighbor, teacher, etc.--let them be there as it's resolved.
There will be times that things don't always go over the way you hoped it would, but that's also a good life lesson for your child to learn.
10. Stop using the word "tattle."
Tattling has a terrible stigma attached to it. I won't explain it; you all know what I mean. The word should be phased out of the English language. Just use the phrase "talk to me" instead. For example: You don't need to tattle [talk to me] if ______ is happening, but please come talk to me if _______ is happening.