I was talking with a young mom a couple of weeks ago regarding chore time and tattling. See if this sounds familiar...
In a nutshell, this mom would tell her young children to "clean up the playroom" and within minutes a child, who was supposed to be cleaning, would come to her telling on their sibling. "He's not cleaning..." instead of working herself. Then, after being returned to the playroom, after a few minutes the other child would come out with the same complaint, "She's not helping..." This scene would repeat again and again- daily- until she was feeling quite frazzled.
IS TATTLING THE PROBLEM?
I understand that kind of pressure. This is the type of pressure that made moms all over the land ban together generations ago and say "tattling" is bad so they could stop hearing complaints and finish a conversation. : )
But tattling isn't bad. Tattling is good! I cannot be in all places at once and I need to know what is going on if something is turning sour. I don't want things to slide by and go uncorrected. That doesn't help anyone's character.
Tattling is really a symptom, revealing a problem, it's not the problem itself. In some cases the problem is even in the heart of the tattler. But if they aren't allowed to express themselves it will be difficult to steer them in the right direction.
IS MANAGEMENT THE PROBLEM?
I'll share with you what I shared with her.
I realized when my children were very young that they would get overwhelmed by certain things. If I loaded their plate too full at meal time or if I gave them open-ended commands like "clean the room" they would become paralyzed. Where does a little person start? This overwhelm causes little people- and sometimes adults- to just stop and stare.
This could be the problem in this case. For starters, I'd try this:
1.) For really small ones (I'm talking about ages 2 - 6 or 7 years of age) I assign specific tasks.
For example, I might have one child assigned to picking up all Legos, another assigned to picking up all the Lincoln Logs and another assigned to picking up all the books and organizing them on the shelf. In this way I can be sure each child knows what to do and each specific child has contributed to the work. I ask the children to come to me when they've finished so that I can INspect their work.
2.) If the kids are really little or prone to distraction I might let them know I'll be back to check on them in 10 minutes. Then I set the timer and return in that time to check in. I don't want a half an hour to go by before I realize the work hasn't begun.
3.) I would start to instruct them in the "off time" with God's Word so I have something to draw from when difficulties occur. I say in the off times because when a child is upset it will be difficult for them to hear a sermon. And when I am upset it is not the time to deliver a sermon either. : ) We don't want to respond in anger- like Moses did. We want to woo them like the Holy Spirit does, simply bringing to their remembrance the Word that is already hidden in their hearts.
"The four little penguins" this is what I mean when I say we are working on the "heart of the issue." This is when I plan a teaching from Scripture related to the problem we are struggling with. I will compile verses that I want to cover and pray before I begin. If only one child is having a problem in the area I might not teach the verses during school Bible time because it would be painfully awkward for the one child to be instructed as such in front of their siblings. But if everyone is dealing with a problem I would. I would try to express myself in the gentlest of terms so they could receive my instruction, being transparent and sharing with them that I struggle in this area (because often I do) or another area. I have learned from my husband that when we confess our sins to one another it removes walls. We all become humbled and bear with one another in love. I would encourage you to be real with your kids. Pray for each other and encourage each other until Christ returns.
If I could choose, I would much rather teach through a resource like Doorpost's "For Instruction in Righteousness" systematically so I can cover situations before a problem occurs. In this way, hearts are easily receptive and not tempted to be defensive. Of course, that is not always possible.
4.) If you have older children (about age 10 and trustworthy) I would encourage you to begin to train them in management. Have the little ones report to them for duty. If I put an older girl in charge of a room the little ones are to ask her, "What do you need me to do?" The older child will assign a task (ie. straighten the book shelf). When the task is completed, the little one must return to the older child and report for duty again. All the while all the children are pitching in. Then Mama can inspect the work when her manager comes to say things are complete.
If the manager has a problem, then Mama must intervene and resolve the issue. Mama must require the little one to submit themselves to the authority of the older sibling in the same way they would submit to Mama. In this way the younger ones are continually trained to submit to the authority of the trustworthy older child. If you are not willing to do that for the older child then I would not put them in charge at all. There is nothing more frustrating than having responsibility with no authority.
Of course, you will need to prepare the older one ahead of time with your guidelines and rules. Their job will be to assign age appropriate tasks and serve in the role of police officer. They will report violations of the existing rules, but they are not to make up new laws themselves. They are not judge and jury. That's Mama's job.
5.) Expect difficulties to occur from time to time. Don't squash tattling, but instruct the heart in those opportunities. Your home is a little church. Now is the time to form those future adults that will need to know how to interact with others in the church body. They will need to know how to submit to their authorities, to work diligently and even to hold others accountable to the standards that God has ordained in a loving way.
All that we do today builds the church of tomorrow. Be passionate, be diligent and let the love and grace that you have received from Christ overflow to your children!
May God bless you as you lead little hearts home.