What to Do About Tattling

What to Do About Tattling

In my series about siblings, one thing we must discuss is tattling.  I get a lot of questions asking about this and I have a great method.  It’s so simple you won’t believe it.

I wrote about this years ago on my old blog that is now in blog heaven.  So I am sharing it again with you here and I hope it blesses you!  Be sure to read the follow-up posts answering a few readers’ questions.

This has worked beautifully in our home for many years, so I hope it inspires you to conquer the tattling issues you may have.

It’s a problem.  I need to know if someone has done something they shouldn’t have. I don’t want my children running to tell me the juicy details of another child’s sin. So how do we solve this?

Here’s how…and it works!

Let’s talk about Susie and Johnny. One afternoon Johnny catches Susie sneaking a cookie from the cookie jar. Does Johnny run to tell Mom? No! Johnny tells Susie, “Go tell Mom you took a cookie.” Susie must go tell on herself….no matter what. Now stay with me….here’s where it gets good. If Susie refuses to tell (I know, your children wouldn’t do that, but let’s just pretend) then Johnny comes to Mom and tells Mom that Susie refuses to tell Mom something. Johnny does NOT tell Mom what Susie did. Susie is then called to Mom (or Mom goes to Susie) and gets automatically disciplined (whatever is your discipline of choice)….just for not telling Mom something when a sibling told her to. After that is dealt with, Susie must still tell Mom she ate a cookie and that is dealt with however it needs to be handled.

What if, you say, Johnny gets a thrill from telling people to go tell Mom things that are unimportant? If Johnny tells Susie to go tell Mom something unimportant then HE gets automatic discipline. So they will be very careful to only use this plan for important things.

There are times when Johnny may not know all of the circumstances. Let’s say Susie appealed to Mom’s soft side and Mom told her she could have a cookie and Johnny didn’t hear that. It doesn’t matter. Susie goes to Mom and says, “Johnny told me to tell you that I ate a cookie.” Mom says, “OK Honey. He didn’t know you were allowed to have one. Thank you for telling me.” Nothing happens to Susie, but she did what she was supposed to do so all is well in the home (well, except for the matter of Johnny now thinking he should have another cookie if Susie got one, but that’s another problem we will solve another time).

Let me lay it out in quick, easy steps:

1. If a child sees a sibling doing something they shouldn’t, they tell them, “Go tell Mom (or Dad) that you ______”
2. There is no discussion between them about it.
3. The child goes to Mom and says “Johnny told me to tell you that I _______”
4. Mom disciplines as necessary (it doesn’t always require discipline).
5. If they refuse to go tell on themselves, the first child goes to Mom and tells her, “Johnny won’ tell you something.” (without telling the actual offense)
6. Mom disciplines for not coming to tell because it’s a matter of family trust….someone tells you to “Go tell Mom” then you have to do it no matter what.
7. Then Mom disciplines separately for the actual offense (making the child go ahead and tell what they did).
8. IF a child sends someone to tell something unimportant then THEY get disciplined.  (the root of this may be trying to get other people in trouble, pride, rejoicing in another’s sin, etc.)

The beauty of this system is that it promotes the Biblical principle of confession. It builds the relationship I have with my children and it doesn’t disintegrate the relationship they have with each other. In our experience it builds trust between them when they are faithful to follow through no matter what. If you are consistent and patient….this plan is foolproof. 

Hebrews 13:17 “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you. “

Be sure to check out my follow-up posts on this topic: More on Tattling and When Little Ones Tattle


  1. Where were you when I had tattling younger children!? And I LIVED by you thn too!!! Oh! So sad to see this now. BUT!! It is fabulous for me to pass in to my kids; their torn is coming!

  2. Oh, thank you! I am definitely going to try this out!

  3. This is a good approach. When our kids were in this “crazy making” stage, we would have them write down the offence and then at the end of the day we would go through the submissions and ask the offended one if they still felt it was important. Most of the time they said no, but sometimes we did have to have a sibling “court”. It managed over time to really help them sort it out for themselves and learn to let more things go.

  4. but how does the child know what is important enough that it needs to be told. if they get disciplined enough times, wont they stop telling the sibling to go telll on themselves?

  5. Love this! Going to put it to use in my first/second grade classroom. I don’t just forbid tattling either, because I can’t see everything all the time, and it’s good to know what issues need to be addressed. But this is a great way to make it all a bit more Biblical.

  6. This is brilliant! I am definitely going to try it with my kids.

  7. LOVE this!! Thank you. Not sure it will work with my developmentally delayed children, but it will work with the rest.

  8. So what if blatant lying to get a sibling in trouble is involved? For example, Johnny goes to mom and says, “Suzie won’t tell you something” and Suzie says “But I didn’t do anything! I was just [building a tower/reading a book/ whatever]”. Either Johnny is lying to get Suzie in trouble and Suzie is innocent, or there really is something that Suzie needs to tell but she is faking innocence, thereby getting Johnny in trouble (for bringing something unimportant to mom’s attention]. How do you handle such a situation when you really don’t know who is in the right?

    We are trying to stamp out lying by coming down hard on it every time we see it happen (fortunately infrequently), but Mama’s eyes can’t be everywhere all the time.

    • Hi Katie! This is a great question!

      First, Susie doesn’t get to choose whether or not to come tell you whatever
      she’s been told by a sibling to tell. Even if she really thinks she didn’t
      do anything she does it. After that, it’s the matter of the dreaded

      Truthfully, I don’t do those investigations anymore. If a child (or both children) lie
      often, I just assume they are lying and I don’t give them the opportunity to
      answer questions. So if she comes and tells me “Johnny said for me to tell
      you that I was breaking his tower but I wasn’t doing it!” and she has a
      problem with lying I would probably discipline her for doing the thing he
      said she did. If she whines of the injustice of being disciplined for
      something she didn’t do I would remind her that if she would tell the truth
      all of the time I could believe her, so if she really is telling the truth
      then let it be a lesson to stop lying. And I would deal with him in a
      similar manner.

      Here is a post I wrote for another site about breaking the habit of lying:

      I also have a series I am doing every Friday on building godly sibling
      relationships you might be interested in: http://thepenningtonpoint.com/2014/01/love-your-brother-2/

      This parenting gig isn’t easy, that’s for sure!

  9. I would love to use this in my home. Tattling is a real issue around here and it irritates me greatly! I’m struggling with the discipline part… what do you recommend as disciplinary measures (in particular, for not telling and for requiring something unimportant be told)? Honestly, I struggle with knowing how to discipline in general. We do believe in spanking (when a child intentionally disobeys), but I don’t believe it’s always the solution. I also have a couple kids who do not respond to spankings. Help?

  10. Hi Lisa,
    My kids are 12 and 14, and we no longer have a problem with tattling… I wish I had known about this back in the day! I shared the link with my sisters who have younger kids (one has 5, the other has 3), and both told me that this system has worked wonderfully! Thank you for taking the time to share your wisdom with others 🙂
    And if you ever want to post about dealing with pre-teen & early teen sibling rivalry, that would be great :). We never had a problem until our eldest became a teenager, and he has gradually become meaner and meaner with his sister. We’ve tried to correct the behavior and the attitude behind it, but it hasn’t really improved much.

  11. I love this idea. I wish I had known about it when my kids were littler.

  12. Hi Great post! We are at this season of life right now with our 2 little girls 6 & 5. I was wondering how you implemented this with your kiddos. how did you explain this to them and what was the process to get them to get it eventually.

    Thank you!