Taming the Tattletale

A young girl is pointing her finger at the camera, as if blaming whoever is on the other side of it.

"Christopher's not letting me play with the ball!" "Sarah's calling me names!" "Tommy won't let me in the bathroom!" Sound familiar?

Tattling reigns as one of the most common behavior problems among siblings. Unfortunately, it is overlooked rather than dealt with properly in many homes.

Parents often pardon rather than correct the tattler simply because they do not know how to deal with the issue. While some parents are frustrated with their inability to control the problem, others try to rationalize their decision to avoid correction.

"After all," reasons one parent, "if my child is doing something he ought not do, why does it matter how I find out?"

Another parent says, "If one of my children has been wronged by his sibling, I would rather he come tell me than to fight back."

While these are reasonable arguments for not correcting the tattler, they overlook the damaging effects that tattling has on sibling relationships.

Tattling is typically motivated by one sibling taking pleasure in the other sibling's suffering, which ultimately creates an atmosphere of opposition and conflict. Siblings who are committed to getting one another in trouble will wedge a thorn of distrust in their relationship, disrupting the harmony of the whole family.

Parents can tame the tattletale and cultivate peace and unity among siblings by following these four steps:

  1. Help the tattler understand his motivation. Parents can teach the tattler how to discern matters of his own heart by asking thought-provoking questions. Use questions that will cause the tattler to take his attention off what someone else has done wrong and instead think about his own wrong motives.

    Sample Questions: "Sweetheart, could it be that you are taking pleasure in getting your brother in trouble?" "What are you hoping will happen to your brother as a result of your tattling?"

    Benefit: By teaching the tattler to determine his own motives, you are teaching him how to "think through" his actions, which will enhance his ability to make good decisions.

    Every so often, a child might have a good motive for tattling. A child should come directly to the parent to tell about a sibling's wrongdoing if the offender is:not heeding encouragement, endangering himself or someone else or destroying property
  2. Help the tattler understand the damaging effects of tale-bearing. Remind your children that their relationships with one another will last longer than with anyone else in the world. More than likely, they will be friends long before they meet their marriage partners and long after their parents are gone.

    Therefore, it is important that they nurture their friendship. Encourage them to be best friends and to seek every opportunity to develop a bond of closeness. Explain how tale-bearing divides friends.

    Sample Questions: "Honey, how do you think your brother/sister feels when you tattle?" "Will tattling bring you closer to your brother/sister or tear you apart?"

    Benefit: Directing attention to the importance of their friendship helps them to see past one another's wrong doings and develops an attitude of unity.
  3. Help the tattler replace tattling with encouragement. It is not enough to reprimand your child for tattling. You must teach the tattler how to replace wrong behavior with right behavior.

    Sample Questions: "Rather than tattling, what could you have said to encourage your brother?" "When you encourage your brother/sister rather than tattling, how do you think that makes him/her feel?"

    Benefit: Teaching your child how to replace wrong behavior with right behavior helps him to grow in wisdom for daily life.
  4. Teach the tattler to practice what he has learned. Training is more effective when your child is required to put his knowledge into practice immediately. The training will stick better when the child uses it in a hands-on situation. Have the tattler act out the right alternative to his wrong behavior.

    Role-Play: Lead both children back to the scene of the crime. Allow them to re-enact what happened. Require the tattler to encourage his or her sibling to do what is right. Require the sibling to heed the encouragement and thank his or her brother/sister.

    Benefit: Role-playing causes your child to put the verbal training into practice, equipping him to respond better to similar situations in the future.

    Children learn by repetition. Be willing to work with your children over and over. On those tiresome days, when you become weary from taking the time to teach them, remember Galatians 6:9: "Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up."

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