Another little tidbit of educational research on tattling shows that in the vast majority of times (if I'm remembering right, the research indicated almost all the time), they DO try to solve their own problems first and "tattle" when they are unsuccessful. Another reason to see the adult response to tattling as an opportunity to mentor problem solving and to consider the issues important from *their* perspectives.
And, one more thing- tattling happens EVEN in preschool classrooms which do not have punishments or rewards (meaning, no incentives for outside praise or to "get others in trouble"). It happens because this is a stage of ethical, social, and communications development and persists even when there is no power gain for the preschool tattler. It is adults who "up the stakes" of tattling by judging the value of the tattle ("important" or not) and imposing consequences. The more you try to "stomp it out", the bigger it gets because you add more fuel to the fire as it takes on a whole set of adult imposed expectations and meaning. If you see it as a request to help with social mentorship, it will fade as the developmental scene changes.
I am fine with telling. Kids are told to never tell on anything, and then they end up sexually abused, bullied, being offered drugs (and possibly trying them), victims of things, etc. I want my children to be able to tell me anything. That being said, I do try to teach them the difference between gossip and telling something that needs to be told. It is better to risk telling something that did not need to be told than to have the child not tell you something you really needed to know.
Let me share a little story. It is a little humorous, but it is a recurring theme I see with parents. I was visiting a friend and the older boy ran up and said younger boy was....She cut him off and told him not to tattle. He tried to say But <brother> is..... Again, she cut him off and said we do not allow tattling. The little boy went away. Friend finished up what she was doing and then went back to the kitchen...where she found the 1 yr old had eaten all the choc covered coffee beans. LOL.....let's just say....she should have let the 4 yr old tattle! LOL Oh..and in addition to the caffeine in the toddler, was the choc melted on his fingers and all over the place!
Sometimes, tattling is good!
I also think that the line between on purpose behavior and accidental behavior is very fuzzy to young children. It's quite common for young children to get into trouble for things they did accidental or without thinking, so when we expect them to cut others slack for accidents, it doesn't make sense to them.
Yes. We've spent significant time going over "on purpose" or "accident" with DC. It has to be repeated often, but they are getting it and able to accept better "she stepped on my foot, but it was an accident." It sounds like that's the root of the problem with the OP's son, and working on that may make the "tattle" part less of a problem.
Our approach was with regard to intent. WHY do they feel the need to tell? We always listened to them of course, but we modeled that "telling" was most useful or mindful when it came from the intent of stopping someone from getting hurt (physical and otherwise), if there is danger or property from being damaged rather than just "I don't like that you are taking too long with that toy- I'm telling!" We tried to assist as necessary with that kind of conflict as well of course, but we wanted to impart the difference.
Embrace the learning that is happening within the things that are actually happening!