Ever Feel Like a Referee?

One day, many years ago, I woke up to the fact that I was encouraging my children to gossip. You might recognize the symptoms:girls arguing

“Maaah-meee! Ruthie’s not sharing!”

“Maaah-mee! Benny just poked me!”

“Maaah-mee! Suzy’s making faces at me!”

One child would become annoyed with another child. Instead of exercising patience and overlooking small offenses or calmly talking to the person who might be seriously provoking him, he was hurrying to report the wrongdoing (or supposed wrongdoing) to me. I was starting to feel like a referee!

That’s when I realized that I was listening to gossip. My children were not taking the steps they should take to make peace with others. Instead, they were eager to tell me what someone else was doing wrong, usually with the hope that I would discipline the child who had provoked them. I was training my children to be talebearers!

I finally realized I should pray about this problem! (Isn’t it amazing how long it takes to figure that out sometimes?) Of course, God’s Word provided answers. If you’re dealing with talebearers, the following verses may be a help to you, too.

1 Peter 4:8 says, “Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins” (ESV). Our children often need to simply overlook “offenses.”  Selfishness and pettiness are often at the root of childish (and adult) grievances. Ask your child if he is being easily provoked. Is he impatient? Is he just thinking about himself while he neglects the needs of the other person?

For the child who has been truly offended, Matthew 18 outlines a clear path:

  1. He should first talk to the person who has offended him.
  2. If the offender does not repent, the offended child should return with one or two witnesses.
  3. If the offender still does not repent, he should discuss the problem with you and rest in your judgment.

Let’s look at these steps in more detail.

Step One: “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” (Matthew 18:15, ESV).

If the offense is one that your child cannot overlook, send him back to the offender with instructions to calmly discuss the problem with him. You may need to coach the child, so that he will know what to say. For instance, he might say, with a loving, humble attitude, “Joseph, you shouldn’t hit. God wants us to love each other,” or “Cindy, I would really like it if you would quit poking me. It makes it hard to do what I am doing, and it also makes it hard to patient with you. Do you think you could agree to stop doing that?”

Step Two: “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” (Matthew 18:16)

The offender may not respond in a godly way to the child who has gone back to talk to him. If he does not repent, the offended child can carefully bring others into the discussion. It is still not time to get his parents involved. He may take a sibling or friend with him to talk to the offender again. He should not be seeking to simply get others to join his side of the disagreement. His purpose should be to bring the offender to repentance. The sibling or friend may join him in appealing to the offender to admit and forsake his wrongdoing.

Step Three:If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church” (Matthew 18:17). If the offender does not repent after witnesses have also appealed to him, the offended person is instructed to take his complaint to the church authorities.

If the offender still refuses to repent, this is the time when the offended child should finally come to you, an acting authority in your home. He should quietly explain the situation to you, and you are then called to step in and act as judge and disciplinarian. You will need to carefully listen to both children, and then discipline in a way that reflects God’s justice. (More on that subject another day!)

Teaching our children to obey God’s instructions when faced with their own sins and the sins of others will prepare them for godly relationships for the rest of their lives. They will become better siblings, better spouses, better parents, better friends, and better church members when they learn to deal with offenses in a godly manner.


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  1. I like this, except that I believe bringing one or two should be the parent, and bringing in the church should be the actual church (hopefully never needed, or perhaps for rebelious teenagers). I don’t think it’s a good idea for siblings to bring other siblings in because often they do not themselves know any better, the children could be incorrect, etc (for me, my sister would often bring my younger sister into arguments, even when I was, in fact, right in my actions as confirmed later by parents) it’s similar to why I don’t like the emphasis on peer groups in schools and such.

  2. I like this idea and I understand what you are saying, but to bring someone else in especially someone outside of the home if the children are going to friends houses to grab them to have them come and help with siblings wouldnt that also be gossiping as children (and most adults) do not yet have that ability to talk through situations with third parties and not gossip? I think for children I would prefer they come to me at the second stage and they we could discuss if a friend (or if you have them sibling) so I could walk them through everytime on how to do this. I have seen many churches try to walk through this and it backfired horribly because it was not done in the right attitude and way without gossiping and ended up dividing the church. I am not sure children would be able to either.

    But I do like the concept and I have noticed lately that my oldest in her desire to control and be little mama is becoming a tailbearer so here is a start in dealing with that (after I pray first of course:)

  3. Thanks, Emily and Teresa, for your comments. I understand your concerns. That is why an offended child should *carefully* involve a second witness. In the interest of keeping the post a little shorter than I have been doing lately (and in the interest of going to bed), I chose not to go into a lot of detail.

    This is definitely a training process, and if you encourage your children to follow these steps, many opportunities for instruction will occur! The first goal is to help children learn that many “offenses” simply need to be overlooked. When that happens, no one else needs to get involved at all (unless it is the parent helping the child learn to be patient and willing to overlook).

    This 3-step process is for the offenses that cannot or should not be overlooked (hitting, bullying, continual taking of others’ toys, etc.), and it does not get the parent “off the hook.” The purpose is not to make mom’s life easier, because it won’t — at least not in the short run. . She still needs to be very aware of what is going on in the household. Even if the offender repents, he will often still need instruction and discipline. This may require training the offending child to report to a parent after his repentance.

    The offended child will need training. If he continually brings in a second witness who only makes matters worse, he needs to learn discernment. Who is an appropriate second witness? Will a younger sibling be too immature to help? If he is at a friend’s house, would a parent in that household be an appropriate second witness?

    Children will need help learning how to be helpful, peacemaking second witnesses. Walk them through this process. What can they do and say that will help make peace? What should they *not* do?

    Yes, this process, even when adults attempt to follow it, can lead to problems. In the church, this can break down into even greater conflicts. But isn’t that usually because of sin and immaturity — sin on the part of the offended who may be being petty or simply seeking allies rather than resolution, sinful attitudes in those who have been called to help make peace, or sinful responses from those who are confronted? This doesn’t mean that the process should be abandoned. It means people need to mature and become more like Christ.

    Children are obviously immature. They will be tempted to sin in this process. BUT, childhood is the time to teach them how to do this, while offenses are small. Then, when they are adults, they will be better equipped to follow these steps that God has clearly given in Scripture.

    Hope this helps address your concerns! 🙂 So much for writing a shorter post!

    (BTW, this is not meant to be a promotion, but simply to offer more help in this area. Doorposts caries a chart-and-book set called “The Brother-Offended Checklist.” This goes into much more detail in training children to handle offenses in a godly manner.)

  4. Step two doesn’t work if you only have 2 children who are talking age. 😉 (and they are the ones who are bickering all the time!) This is something we really need to work on at my house. (one among many)I really enjoy the helpful posts on you blog. Thank you for doing this!

  5. what do you recommend when there are only 2 children? also, what role is the church supposed to fulfill before the child goes to the parent? does the child talk to the children’s pastor? i love your ideas and i want to make sure that i understand.

  6. Your question is a good one, Amanda! If two children are in the family, you will be dealing with grievances against each other, and no other witness will be available. If that is the case, or if your children are all very young, the offended child should come to a parent if his appeals to the offender are not fruitful.

    You then have the opportunity to talk to him more before dealing with the offender. You can question the child. Does he have a “beam ” (Matthew 7:1-5) in his own eye that he needs to deal with? Has he sinned in the situation, and does he need to do his own repenting? What can he do to make peace? Is he overcoming evil with good? (Romans 12:20-21) Is he eager to see the offender disciplined? Should he be?

    After you have talked to the child, you can go with him as a “second witness” in appealing to the offender. Together you can talk to the offender about his actions. He may have a different version of the situation. As you listen to him, you will step into the judge’s role, weighing the accounts of both parties, and instructing both children about patience, honesty, repentance, and forgiveness.

    You may find that the offended child has misrepresented the situation, and needs to be instructed about telling the truth and acting as a reliable witness. If you discern that he has lied about the situation, you may need to discipline him instead of the supposed offender (see Deuteronomy 19:16-20).

    This process, even with only two children (or with very young children) will look different than an offended child simply reporting an offense to his parent. He will have appealed first to the offender (and you will have trained him in how to do this), and you will be taking time to question and train him before you both go back to the offender.

    So many different situations can arise when dealing with children. This process of addressing the wrongdoer first will have to be prayerfully modified to fit your situation. But the main goal remains: Teach the child to seek peace before involving others.

    As far as the church’s role is concerned, I am suggesting that in the home, the parent is acting as the authority, just as church leaders are the acting authorities in the church community. In the home, the child would go to the parent after his appeals to the offender have been ineffective. In the church community, the offended believer would appeal to the pastor or elders, after he has done all he can to bring peace between himself and an offending brother. A child would not go to the pastor before working with his parents (unless, of course, the parents are the offending parties who are sinning against him in a serious way). (And that subject opens up a whole new “can of worms,” which we will not try to address here.)

    Again, if you want more on this subject, it is much more thoroughly addressed (and in a more organized way) in Doorposts’ “The Brother-Offended Checklist,” which also provides a chart that the children can look to as a guide when situations arise that need resolving.

  7. What if you don’t know who did it. My daughter is young and sometimes thinks she has been offended by my son for various reasons. He is known to taunt her so I am not sure if he is lying or she is over reacting. They both claim to be innocent of any wrong doing. I don’t know which one to punish , How much and how to punish them. It happens to often and it wears me down. Thanks…

  8. thanks so much! that was wonderful! you are such a blessing. thanks for helping all of us moms out there. thanks for taking the time to respond to my ?? . you really are helping us become better moms! love your blogs!

  9. Sherry,
    I just saw your question this morning. I don’t know if you’ll see this answer or not.

    There are many times when you just won’t know what has really happened! Without clear evidence, we really can’t discipline justly. You can first ask the offended child if this offense is one that they can cover with love and simply overlook. Not every “offense” needs to be disciplined.

    It’s good to remind the children, too, that God knows exactly what happened, and appeal to them to be completely honest with you. After that, if the situation is still not clear, I would pray with them, thanking God for His love and His justice, and praying for Him to help the two children love and honor each other and live peaceably together.

  10. Very good information.

    I love the Young Peacemaker for training in conflict. It has helped my daughter understand that her choices have consequences–whether good or bad. It has helped her see that she is responsible for her choices and no one else.

    My younger children (6 and 4), think that overlooking an offense is to close your eyes at the offending person and look up. I can’t help but chuckle, but at the same token, the offending party does NOT like to be overlooked. So of course I have had to explain what it means to overlook.

    Training is a tough job!! I am thankful for His word to guide us–and thank you for breaking it down into manageable steps for us all! 🙂

  11. So true.

    The other side of the issue is – the child needs to deal with their own heart first.

    When the feeling of annoyance or irritation rises – what will they do with it?

    Allow it to fester and act on that?

    Or CHOOSE to let it go, to not be offended (no matter how deliberately the sibling is trying to get a rise).

  12. aaand I didnt read the comments, only the article. 😀

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