How To Tame the Tattler

by sharon cannavo parenting tips

Discovering the Heart of the Matter

Little Jack knows he is not supposed to touch the photo of grandma and grandpa on the family room shelf, but he misses them, and can’t resist taking a hands-on look at them.  Ellie, Jack’s big sister sees her brother pick up the photo and attempts to grab it out of Jack’s hands.  Jack smacks Ellie while he clings to the cherished photo, and Ellie runs into the kitchen, declaring  “Mom!  Jack took the picture of Grandma and Grandpa off the shelf, and you told us we couldn’t do that!  I tried to stop him, but he hit me!!  Mom, hurry up!  He’s going to break it!”

Hearing Ellie’s accusations is becoming a more common occurrence everyday.  She’s right! Jack was told not to touch the photo. But the hair on the back of mom’s neck is going up, and she is even more bothered by this accusation than with Jack’s disobedience.  Why is that, and what should she do?  She can’t be watching them 24/7, and there is a benefit to an extra set of eyes on little Jack who does tend to get into situations. But why is the “report” of his disobedience bothering mom so much? 

There are a couple of issues here.  

One: God did not give authority over the kids to the kids.  He gave it to the parents.  So as Ellie gains more and more authority over her little brother, she does not have the maturity or understanding to handle it with consideration and grace. That’s something that comes with training, learning and experience (and age).  

Two: She has fallen into a sinful trap.  Having authority over her sibling makes her feel important (puffed up). This is perhaps what mom is sensing, and is the reason she is so bothered.  She’s right in realizing the bigger problem than picking up a picture frame is presenting itself through Ellie’s behavior.  Dealing with Jack’s disobedience and his response to Ellie trying to take the frame seems straight forward, but dealing with Ellie’s response in the circumstance, and her habitual tattling has mom confused. 

Mom needs to consider the sin (or sins) in Ellie’s heart, and not just the circumstances.  The circumstances could appear to place Ellie in the right.  But if the individual’s motivation is sinful, that’s a problem that has to be addressed.  As Luke 6:45 says, Mom needs to take inventory of what is coming out of the abundance of Ellie’s heart as she speaks. Mom takes note of her little tattler’s attitude in order to discern Ellie’s motivations?

Is Ellie’s Tattling a Desire to Have Justice or Revenge?

If it is, Mom would be wise to look at Romans 12:19-20 as it clearly states…

Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord. To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.””

Mom can see that justice or revenge is never an acceptable motivation for our actions.  Only God has the job of applying justice or revenge. He does it in perfect knowledge and understanding. He is love, and therefore in His wisdom, he would never apply justice and revenge unless necessary. So if this was Ellie’s motivation, Mom would need to apply a related consequence that could help Ellie learn this lesson, and it might look like this… 

To resolve this...Have the child who was demanding justice or revenge, and treating the other person as an enemy, apply a kindness towards the one they were tattling on. Maybe with Mom, make the child’s favorite cookies, or share a treasured toy, or make the child’s bed.  The sky’s the limit in the options for kindness.  And as the act of kindness (which is the “burning coals on his head”) is being poured out on Jack, his little conscience might also be seared or convicted, drawing him into right behavior and repentance.  Of course mom would not want to forget to apply consequence for Jack’s disobedience, and his sinful response to his sister as well.  

Is Ellie’s Tattling Stemming from Jealousy?

Sometimes it’s hard not to envy the one who lacks fear in doing what they want to do, with no regard for the rules or the boundaries.  Why are they able to have all the fun?  If mom detects this is the core of Ellie’s response, then she would be wise to look at Proverbs 23:17:

Let not your heart envy sinners, but continue in the fear of the Lord all the day. 

And Matt 7:2 

For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you

To resolve this...Mom should have a conversation with Ellie, asking “Do you believe that God sees all things and all people and He will judge?  Do you understand that you too are sinning?  And the justice you demand for your sibling is the justice that God will pour out on you for your sins?  Ellie, when you trust God as the authority, you will leave the one who is breaking the rules and sinning to God who sees all, and you focus only on making sure your behavior isn’t sinful.  God rewards our trust in Him."

Additionally, Mom should have Ellie sincerely apologize to Jack.  Mom can have Ellie and Jack  memorize Ephesians 6:1-3 and draw a picture depicting the difference between one who does not obey and the one who does.

Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise), “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.”

 Or… Is Ellie’s Tattling Due to the Pleasure that Comes From Gossiping? 

Proverbs 18:8 would be the verse to go to in this situation:  

The words of a whisperer are like delicious morsels; they go down into the inner parts of the body. 

Mom would explain to Ellie that the Bible tells us, gossip is like swallowing choice morsels (maybe like a yummy piece of chocolate) that sinks into the inner parts of the body (referring to the heart where we either accept or reject God and His ways).  It feels pleasant, and easily becomes habitual, yet to the gossiper and the listener, it leaves lasting damage.  We take an element of respect and dignity away from the one we are gossiping about.  Gossip never has the person’s best interest at heart. Quite the contrary! It is looking to harm the other person.

And James 3:8-10

but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so.

To resolve this...Based on this verse Mom might give her young tattler a small chocolate. Explain that gossiping creates a similar pleasure. Then offer the tattler a slice of lemon or lime to bite on. Explain that this is a similar result of gossip.  The pleasure is gone, and it leaves everyone with a bitter, sour taste (or attitude in the heart). 

Additionally, Mom could have Ellie pick a gift that comes from her own belongings as a visual representing the honor and respect that she robbed from her brother when she gossiped.

What if Ellie’s attitude didn’t reflect any of the above?  Maybe she wasn’t expressing sin at all, but just immaturity in how she handled the situation. Maybe Mom senses...

Ellie’s Tattling is a Sincere Desire to help the one in sin to be rescued out of sin.

What if Ellie was genuinely concerned for her brother, seeing that he was sinning and knowing that sin hardens the heart, so she wanted to rescue little Jack from the perils of sin? This is a very mature and right response that we want to train in our children.  This is away they can love God and love their neighbor.  In this case, Mom can refer to Ephesians 4:2-3 (NIV) and encourage Ellie to have the right attitude and approach… 

Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.

And teaching Ellie Matthew 18:15-17

“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.

Even if Ellie’s intentions were honorable, her approach towards her brother was bossy and unloving as she attempted to grab the photo from his hands.  When someone is treated that way, they will automatically self protect.  So Ellie’s actions stumbled Jack into deeper sin, rather than rescuing him.  If instead she had approached him in gentleness, helping him to see his sin and understand her desire to rescue him from the sin in a peaceful manner, perhaps he might have responded by placing the photo back on the shelf.  If he didn’t and there were other siblings in the room, Ellie could have had one or more of the other siblings lovingly confirm that his actions were sinful.  If he still refused to replace the photo back in its position on the shelf, it would be time to go approach Mom (the authority) and humbly ask for help in bringing Jack back into the safety of obedience.  

If Ellie had handled the circumstance in this way, Mom would only be working on Jack's area of sin and consequence.  And, to encourage Ellie, Mom and Dad might even want to take the kids for ice-cream after dinner to celebrate the genuine love Ellie showed to her sibling.  All would share in the celebration of Ellie's good choice as she is also rewarded with the joy of being responsible for the families fun treat.  

Of course this takes patient training on Mom’s part.  This takes knowing that every sinful circumstance is an opportunity to train and grow her children in moral maturity for their future.  As a result, in the day when it is time for her children to leave the home, she can be confident that she taught them the authority of God over all, the value of humility in their dealings with others, and the wisdom to make godly choices in all circumstances.  The days are long, so we may as well use them to the greatest advantage in teaching our children how biblical lives are lived. The years are short, so the sooner and more consistently we do this, the more progress we will make in the heart of our children, equipping them for their future.  Our children are in a sense, our biblical talents (Matt. 25:14-30). We can raise them off the cuff, which is the equivalence of burying our talents with no increase. When we train their hearts and multiply their biblical wisdom there is every advantage gained. We help our children recognize sin which leads them to the Gospel, and shows them that there are ways to escape sin’s trappings.  This results in multiplied talents with greater increase for the Lord, and allows us to hear from the lips of God one day,

“Well done good and faithful servant.” 


Sharon Cannavo