Nobody likes a snitch, but it can be difficult for children to understand the difference between being a tattle tale and reporting a dangerous situation to an adult.  Snitchy Witch by Frank J. Sileo, Ph.D., explores the difference between tattling, or snitching, and telling or reporting. As young children  develop their sense of right and wrong, they may struggle with tattling.

This excerpt from Dr. Sileo’s “Note to Grown-Up Witches” provides useful strategies for parents to help their children learn the difference between snitching and telling, develop problem-solving skills, and develop empathy.

To Tell or Not to Tell

Snitching, or tattling, is telling on someone when the situation is safe and does not require an adult to be involved. Telling, or reporting, is telling an adult when someone or something is being hurt or is in danger, or when someone is deliberately being destructive or hurtful.

Children tattle for many different reasons including seeking attention, jealousy or wanting to get someone in trouble, to show they know the rules, and others. They may snitch because they haven’t yet developed the ability to think abstractly, so they interpret rules very rigidly. Young children also may have not yet developed effective interpersonal problem solving skills, leading them to involve adults unnecessarily.

Of course, there are times when children should always tell an adult that something is going on. Let your child know they can always ask you if they are unsure about a situation. Help your child learn to recognize the difference between dangerous situations, like bullying or someone or getting hurt, and frustrating or upsetting situations, like people being rude or selfish, by providing concrete examples.

Wanda was glad she made the switch from being a snitch!

If Your Child Snitches

Teaching your child the difference between snitching and telling is an important starting point, but remember that children may snitch for a lot of different reasons.

Teach Problem-Solving Skills

Young children are learning the important skills needed to deal with conflict and problems. Stepping in to solve problems too quickly will teach your child that the only way to solve a problem is to go to an adult for help. Instead, teach your child to work through conflicts with others. For example, suggest they take a few deep breaths and think about a way to handle the situation on their own before tattling. Give them tools—like using words (“I don’t like it when you don’t share with me”) or walking away to play with someone or something else in a difficult situation.

Avoid Rewarding Snitching Behavior

Sometimes a child tattles because she is seeking attention, feels jealous, or wants to get another child in trouble. Resist jumping right in and to scold the “perpetrator.” You’ll be giving the “snitcher” a false sense of importance, and likely encourage more snitching. If safety is not an issue, avoid punishing the other child, so that you avoid giving positive attention to the snitcher.

Show and Teach Empathy

Children may snitch because the want you to know that they know the rules. Acknowledge and praise the child for coming to you and knowing and following the rules. Validate their concerns and feelings. You might say, “Thank you for being concerned about your sister’s safety about her jumping on the bed.” At the same time, you can talk about and teach empathy. Ask your child, “How would you feel if someone told on you about something that might be an accident? Would you be angry? Sad? Upset?” Help your child understand that other kids may not want to play with her for fear of being tattled on. As your child develops empathy, she may be less inclined to snitch.

Help your child develop problem-solving skills. Talk about and give them examples of situations where someone is tattling and someone telling an adult about a genuinely dangerous situation to help them understand the difference. Avoid rewarding snitching behavior and take the opportunity to teach empathy, instead. By exploring this issue with your child, you’ll help her become a good friend.

Frank Sileo Author by Frank Sileo, PhD

This Article's Author

Frank J. Sileo, PhD, is a New Jersey licensed psychologist and the founder and executive director of the Center for Psychological Enhancement in Ridgewood, New Jersey. He received his doctorate from Fordham University in New York City.

In his practice, Dr. Sileo works with children, adolescents, adults, and families. Since 2010, he has been consistently recognized as one of New Jersey’s top kids’ doctors.

He has authored several children’s books including: A World of Pausabilities: An Exercise in Mindfulness, Did You Hear?: A Story About Gossip, Bug Bites and Campfires: A Story for Kids About Homesickness, and Sally Sore Loser: A Story About Winning and Losing, which is the Gold Medal recipient of the prestigious Mom’s Choice Award.

Related Books from Magination Press

  • Snitchy Witch

    Frank D. Sileo, PhD


    “Oh moon so full, round, and bright
    We beg one favor of you tonight
    For witches who tattle, witches who snitch
    Tie their tongues, zip their lips!
    No witch shall squeal or tell on friends.
    This spell will be broken when the snitching ends!”

    Tattling is an all too familiar occurrence among children that can have harmful impacts on friends and relationships. This spellbinding story encourages children to examine the difference between snitching and telling, and the impact of their words on others.

    Includes a Note to Parents and Caregivers with more information about snitching versus telling and what adults can do to help.