By Cynthia Carrier
"Mom! Deborah didn't make her bed!"
"Mom! I didn't do anything, but Isaiah hit me!"
"Mom! Jonah isn't working on his math assignment!"
Did you ever hear repeated statements like this? Is your house full of little tattle-tales? How do you deal with it?
For a while I just took it at face value and would simply remind the children to "encourage one another" rather than looking for things that would tear each other down, or advise them to talk to one another rather than coming to me. We also went through role-playing scenarios about how the children should address issues amongst themselves--all to no avail, it seemed. We seemed to be making very little progress against the onslaught of tale-bearing.
After reaching a prolonged impasse, I finally realized something important: the children were really not concerned that their siblings needed correction. Most often times, there wasn't even an issue between the children that needed arbitration. Instead, almost all the instances of tattling had one sin at their root: self-righteousness.
Let's look at the above examples in that light. When the older daughter complains that the younger didn't make her bed, guess what? It's usually followed by the statement, "I made my bed!" And when a child contends that she was hit without provocation, the implication is that she is innocent--somehow superior to her brother (though that's not always the case). If one of my older children is working at the table with his brother and his brother seems not-so-diligent, what a great opportunity to point out how much he is getting done in comparison!
It's easy to discipline behaviors, but when we don't see improvements after consistently applying one form of discipline or another, we may be missing the heart of the matter. Sometimes, as with tattling, it's an issue of self-righteousness. If we want to raise spiritually fit kids, we need to make sure that they understand what righteousness is, how we attain it, and what it means to walk in righteousness.
In this particular case, I had to help my children understand something fairly basic: our righteousness rests upon Christ's death on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins (see, for example, Romans 3:21-23, Romans 5:16-18, Romans 8:10, Romans 10:4, 1 Corinthians 1:30, Galatians 2:21, Philippians 3:8-9). We stand before God without condemnation based on what Christ has done for us, not based on our own actions.
However, if we claim the righteousness of Christ, we will also seek to manifest that righteousness in our actions, by living according to God's precepts. 1 John 3:10 (AMP) expresses it this way:
\u2028"By this it is made clear who take their nature from God and are His children and who take their nature from the devil and are his children: no one who does not practice righteousness [who does not conform to God's will in purpose, thought, and action] is of God."
As such, some of the things we may choose to emphasize as we teach and train our children in righteousness include honesty and integrity (Proverbs 12:22, Proverbs 6:16-19, 1 Chronicles 29:17, Ephesians 4:25, Deuteronomy 23:21-23, Numbers 30:1-2) and doing good of all kinds (James 4:17, Romans 12:17-21, Galatians 6:9-10). These are some basic behaviors we can encourage that will help our children to reflect a Godly character. And, as I recently realized, we also have to be alert to areas in which our children are falling prey to self-righteousness so that we can turn their focus back on Christ and what He has done for us. When we compare ourselves to Him, there is no room for boasting.
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