55: Tattletale

What should you do when children tattletale?

When I was a kid I was playing at the neighbor’s house. We found a kerosene lamp and were attempting to light it. Of course, we didn’t know that there was a difference between kerosene and gasoline. All we knew was that we needed a flammable liquid. We rounded up a gas can and were working on filling the lamp when the neighbor’s dad caught us. Even today, I’m not sure what would have happened had we continued. I suspect it would have exploded or caused a huge ball of fire. I do know that I am glad the little neighbor girl told on us.

As a parent, I need to know when my children are headed for trouble. I want to know if they are getting into gasoline, matches, pornography, cigarettes, or dangerous situations. I want to know if they are hitting, cussing, stealing, or starting to form other bad habits. For this reason, there are no secrets in our house. If one child is doing something they shouldn’t, a sibling is bound to tell him to stop. If that does not help, someone should come and get us. If a conflict occurs between the kids, they are not allowed to take it into their own hands. They are taught to say, “Help please Mom (or Dad).” When the kids spend time with other kids they are trained to let us know if the other kids say things like, “Whatever you do, don’t tell your mom or dad.”

We want and need to know what is going on in our kids’ lives.

So why does a tattletale get such a bad rap? Sometimes we look down on that behavior simply because we do not want to manage kids at that level. Instead of jumping in and using these opportunities to train our kids, it is easy to just tell them to go away. Obviously, it would be better to coach our kids than to cover our eyes and ears and hope all their problems work themselves out.

A couple of legitimate reasons tattletales can be annoying include when they are not minding their own business, or they are bent on getting their sibling into trouble, instead of trying to protect him.

For example, I want someone to tell if my child is playing with a gun. I do not want anyone to tell on him for not finishing his peanut butter and jelly sandwich. That is for Kathleen and me to watch over, not for our kids. We tell them that we are the parents; and they are not.

I do not my want kids to tell if someone makes a face at them. I want them to work it out amongst themselves, and I want them to get me if they can’t work it out. If they tell before trying to work it out, often they are just trying to get their sibling in trouble.

Here is a verse we’ve recently had the kids learn: 1 Thessalonians 4:11 “Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands…”

Of course we focus on the ‘mind your own business’ aspect of the verse. Several of our children have written out that verse multiple times in recent months.

This all takes some discernment on the part of the kids and the parents. Not only do they need to learn whether or not to tell, but when and where to tell. At school or church they need to let a lot of things slide. They shouldn’t come running to us or a teacher every time they see another child act up. Later, they can tell us what they saw and sort through what an appropriate action would have been. This whole learning process is critical. It is all part of discovering how to have meaningful relationships—knowing when to show grace, when to confront, and when to ask an authority figure to oversee the situation.


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