Dear Care and Feeding,
Before quarantine, my 8-year-old daughter had no friends in her class, but was friends with a bunch of kids in her grade, so I didn’t think much of it. When I asked her, she just said that all the kids in her class were annoying. But now that she and my 12-year-old son are at home, I think she wasn’t making friends for a reason: She’s a huge tattletale. I was sitting in on her Zoom calls the first week of school, and after a breakout room, she would message the teacher and tell her everything the other kids did that was “mean” such as getting a role she wanted, interrupting her, or correcting her. When she and her brother play a board game, she gets upset and goes to me or my husband whenever he’s supposedly cheating by bumping her back to start or making her give up a good card. She wasn’t like this at home before quarantine, but I think she was like this at school. If it’s frustrating for us now, it must have been harder on her teacher, but no amount of talks on when or when not to tell an adult about a problem are working. How do I explain to her that the world is not against her?
The impulse to tell tales is as old as time itself. Here you are, rushing to report your child’s behavior to the nearest authority, an internet advice column!
I agree that this certainly has something to do with your daughter’s lack of classroom friends. No one wants to hang with someone who is constantly narcing on them! Teachers are exceptionally good at dealing with tattletales, and I would not worry about this behavior in Zoom class. In fact, Zoom class is the ideal forum for tattletaling, because it allows the teacher to ignore the tattletale without all her classmates knowing what a pain in the ass she’s being in the DMs. At home, you can discourage her by treating her tattletaling with utter disinterest and disdain. Seriously: Just say “I’m not interested in that” whenever she comes to you complaining that her brother sent her back to Home because he drew a Sorry! card, and that’s not fair. Don’t have any more long talks with her about when or when not to tell an adult. Just act as bored as someone who’s just been forced to endure a co-worker’s description of the plot of the “superior” Star Wars prequels. She’ll get it.
Dear Care and Feeding,
My wife and I count our blessings during this pandemic every day. We are healthy, we have good jobs that we are able to do from home, and we have the facilities (space, internet speed, devices) to support all of us doing remote work and school without getting in each other’s way. But 2020 has still been unkind. We lost my father to COVID-19 in April, and our dog recently succumbed to liver cancer. My children have handled these events with grace and maturity far beyond their years. My son (9) had us all write letters to my dad and then burned them in the fireplace (so he would get them). My daughter (7) made memorials for each with art supplies and various things of theirs from around the house. It was all extremely sweet.
Lately, though, my daughter has been using these as excuses not to go to sleep. “I can’t sleep, I’m too sad about Pop Pop/Fido!” for example. At first, we did whatever we needed to comfort her (sleeping in her bed with her, etc.), but it is getting to the point where it feels like she keeps going to the well because it keeps working. I don’t doubt that she feels genuine sadness, especially when it is dark and she is alone, but also … we’re regressing a lot here. How do we acknowledge her grief, but also get her to go to bed?
—I’m Sad Too
Dear Sad Too,
My condolences on the losses you’ve suffered this year, and I’m glad your children seem to be processing these losses with grace. But kids who are hungry for attention can sometimes latch onto real-life sorrows in ways that feel like too much to adults who are struggling with their own grief.
As with any bedtime stalling, you can always deal with it through the time-tested policy of reducing, each night, the amount of time you spend in comfort mode. I’ve also found it useful to focus on simple, replicable rituals like handshakes that bring a little bit of nightly closure to the bedtime process. But I’d also urge you to give things a little more time. This stuff is still really fresh, for your daughter and for you, and the times we live in are awful, and would either of you really be worse off for spending the occasional night continuing to snuggle? No, you would not.
Finally, you’re still sad, as you noted. That’s very understandable! You might consider talking to a trained professional about that, and if you think your daughter might benefit from talking to a trained professional, I’d consider making that appointment, too.
• If you missed Sunday’s Care and Feeding column, read it here.
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Dear Care and Feeding,
I’m not a parent; but I do live with and help raise my three small siblings. I’m autistic, and sometimes the little daily parenting etiquettes pass me by. I was reading along a “stranger danger” thread on Twitter and got worried I was doing something wrong. So here’s my question: What are you supposed to do when a kid you don’t know gets hurt at the park and you don’t see a parent? Usually what I do is: sit a minute, wait for a parent to notice. If no one does, wait for the kid to stop crying. If the kid does not stop crying (especially if one of my siblings was playing with the crying kid; they’re good kids and would never hurt someone on purpose but are very clumsy and liable to fall down and start a domino effect), I go over and ask if they’re there with anybody and would like help finding their adults. Sometimes they say no, get up and go right back to playing, and sometimes they say yes and we wander around and look for Mom or Dad or Grandma or whoever. No one has ever reacted badly to this, and I’ve always gotten what seemed like genuine thank-you’s. Is this wrong of me? Am I being creepy? For context I’m a nonbinary person who reads as a cis woman in most contexts, and we live in a small Midwestern town, and all the parks we go to are mostly in small towns. I’ve been doing what I would like people to do if my siblings were hurt and I didn’t know; but now I’m wondering if I’ve crossed some boundary I didn’t know about. And if I have, what’s the proper thing to do in these situations?
—Wish There Was a Manual
You did not cross a boundary. Those thank-you’s are genuine. This is the proper thing to do in these situations. In fact, you don’t have to wait for a child to stop crying! You can help them right away and no one will be upset at you for it. I’m glad you’re so engaged in these parenting puzzles, and I think you’re doing a great job.
For more of Slate’s parenting coverage, listen to Mom and Dad Are Fighting
Dear Care and Feeding,
My wife was raised by a single mother in a very poor area. Her mother had to work three jobs, and most of the food they ate was either cheap instant meals or sandwiches on dollar store bread. She has talked about being unable to get many things that most kids had, and feeling constantly worried they would be homeless. Through hard work, she was able to go to college and business school, and now has a job in the same field as me, which pays pretty well. We have two sons who are 6 and 8, and I’ve noticed that she buys them new toys and clothes more than usual. They’ll ask for the newest version of a game or the newest Lego set, and she says she’ll think about it, but in a few days, it’ll arrive at our house. She says that she was never able to have this as a kid, and she wants them to grow up feeling like “they have as much as the other kids.” These toys never cost more than $40, but our sons have realized that if they want something, all they have to do is tell Mom that all the other kids have it. I know that this probably is because she wasn’t able to get random presents (or really any presents) as a kid, but I don’t think a constant stream of gifts is good for our kids. I’ve tried to talk with her about this, but she always brushes me off. How can I stop the constant stream of Legos and Nintendo games?
—Tired of New Toys
I have such wonderful news for you: This is not a problem. Let your wife buy your kids the Legos and Nintendo games she could not afford as a child. You can continue, as you certainly already do, to stress all the other things in life that are even more important than toys and possessions, and give your kids and wife love and support in all the ways you do.
You should learn to play some of the Nintendo games! We’re enjoying Hades.
More Advice From Slate
My friends have a son, about 5 years old. They enforce little (if any) discipline on him, and he throws a hissy fit if they try to “make” him do anything. They tell him to pick up something he threw; he ignores them. Dad picks it up in a couple of minutes. They tell him to go to bed; he ignores them and keeps doing whatever he is into. My fear is that they are teaching him that he can get away with anything by ignoring the rules. Specifically, I am concerned that he will never learn that no means no, i.e., that they are raising a rapist. Should I say anything to them?