FamilyLife Today® Podcast

Dealing with Whining, Tattling, and Sibling Rivalry

with Ginger Plowman | August 27, 2008
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Today on the broadcast, Ginger Plowman, homeschooling mother of two and author of the book Don't Make Me Count to Three, talks to Dennis Rainey about a parent's biggest challenges raising children--whining, sibling rivalry, and tattling.

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • Today on the broadcast, Ginger Plowman, homeschooling mother of two and author of the book Don't Make Me Count to Three, talks to Dennis Rainey about a parent's biggest challenges raising children--whining, sibling rivalry, and tattling.

  • Dave and Ann Wilson

    Dave and Ann Wilson are hosts of FamilyLife Today®, FamilyLife’s nationally-syndicated radio program. Dave and Ann have been married for more than 38 years and have spent the last 33 teaching and mentoring couples and parents across the country. They have been featured speakers at FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway since 1993 and have also hosted their own marriage conferences across the country. Cofounders of Kensington Church—a national, multicampus church that hosts more than 14,000 visitors every weekend—the Wilsons are the creative force behind DVD teaching series Rock Your Marriage and The Survival Guide To Parenting, as well as authors of the recently released book Vertical Marriage (Zondervan, 2019). Dave is a graduate of the International School of Theology, where he received a Master of Divinity degree. A Ball State University Hall of Fame quarterback, Dave served the Detroit Lions as chaplain for 33 years. Ann attended the University of Kentucky. She has been active alongside Dave in ministry as a speaker, writer, small-group leader, and mentor to countless wives of professional athletes. The Wilsons live in the Detroit area. They have three grown sons, CJ, Austin, and Cody, three daughters-in-law, and a growing number of grandchildren.

Today on the broadcast, Ginger Plowman, homeschooling mother of two and author of the book Don’t Make Me Count to Three, talks to Dennis Rainey about a parent’s biggest challenges raising children–whining, sibling rivalry, and tattling.

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Dealing with Whining, Tattling, and Sibling Rivalry

With Ginger Plowman
August 27, 2008
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Ginger: Let me just tell you my life verse for parenting.  It's Galatians 6:9.  It say, "Let us not become weary in doing good for, at the proper time, we will reap a harvest if we do not give up."  And our responsibility is not just to teach them that one time and to expect them to automatically have it.  We have to continue, we have to be diligent, and our responsibility, just like in many things, it takes practice and practice and more practice.

Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Wednesday, August 27th.  Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine.  Today we have some strategies that may help you make the job of parenting a little less wearisome.

And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us.  You've been talking this week about your daughter, Ashley, who is a mother of five boys all eight and under, right?

Dennis: Right.

Bob: Are you sending her the CDs of this week's program?

Dennis: Well, it may not be fast enough, Bob.  I was actually thinking how I could send it electronically.

Bob: Download somehow – attach it to an e-mail.

Dennis: So she could put it on her iPod.  But all this week we've been talking about the subject of discipline, of children, specifically younger children, 10 years of age and younger, and I just decided I wanted to run a poll for our listeners on  Now, if you haven't been to, you know it's a resource-rich website where you can find answers, and you can find forums of folks you can talk to about issues you're facing.  But what I want to do is run a poll of our listeners, and I want to find out which of these three things are the bigger issue if you have children under the age of 10, all right?

Bob: Okay.

Dennis: We're going to find out if whining is a bigger issue.

Bob: That's a biggie.

Dennis: Sibling rivalry or sibling conflict.

Bob: That's a biggie, too.

Dennis: Aggravating your brother or sister, you know?  I think everybody knows what that is.  And, finally, the third one – tattling.  Do you have any tattlers?  It's an interesting word.  You know, it even kind of has a despicable sound to it.

Bob: I'm guessing tattling …

Dennis: A tattler.

Bob: I'm guessing tattling is going to come in third.  I'm guessing it's happening, but if I had to rank those in order myself, I think …

Dennis: I'm doing it right now in my mind.  I'll tell you what my list would be.

Bob: I think sibling rivalry then whining then tattling.  What do you think?

Dennis: I think it's going to be whining, number one; sibling rivalry, number two; and I'm going to agree with you, tattling is last.

Bob: And our guest was nodding at your list, so I guess it's two against one, and I'm probably wrong.

Dennis: No, I …

Bob: We'll see, we'll see on the poll.

Dennis: We will see on the poll.  The guest who is nodding is Ginger Plowman.  Welcome back to FamilyLife Today, Ginger.

Ginger: Thank you, Dennis, good to be back.

Dennis: Ginger has written a book that – well, it's a mom's look at heart-oriented discipline.  And if you haven't been listening this week, there is a difference between altering the behavior of your children and addressing the needs of their hearts.  And it's titled "Don't Make Me Count to Three," and I love the cover.  You've got this mom bending over looking at this stubborn, looks like a three-year-old little girl.  What's the bottle of medicine that she's trying to give the daughter?  I keep trying to look, and I can't read – what is that, Ginger?

Ginger: I don't know that I've ever looked, Dennis.  Let's see …

Dennis: It is laxative?  I hope not.

Ginger: It is, it is.

Dennis: It's a laxative!  Why are you giving this …

Bob: Oh, that's elixir, is what it says – not laxative.  That's elixir, right?

Ginger: No, it says "laxative."  Well, no wonder the little girl has got her arms folded not wanting to take it.  I wouldn't either.

Dennis: I've been looking at that all week, and I thought, "Why would they want that little girl to do that?"  Well, anyway, we are talking about helping your children deal with issue and specifically equipping moms to be able to better discipline their children.  And today I want to talk about these three issues – whining and complaining, sibling rivalry, or sibling conflict, and tattling.

All right, let's roll up our sleeves, Ginger.  If you have a child who is just a whiner, just a complainer, and, by the way, I don't know if this is genetic or what, but our family – this was a biggie.  I mean, we really struggled where we'd have to go to Philippians, chapter 2, that says, "Do all things without grumbling or disputing."

Bob: Was this six out of six with your kids?

Dennis: Yes, yes.

Bob: You didn't have anybody who stayed away from whining or …

Dennis: No, not that I know of.

Bob: And you've got two kids?

Ginger: I had one whiner and one not-so-bad whiner.

Bob: Yeah?

Ginger: My daughter was the whiner, and so I can certainly relate and sympathize with parents who are dealing with that annoying behavior.  And one thing that I did with my daughter is – well, let me just go through a scenario.  Let's say that may daughter walks into the kitchen and rather than asking for a cup of juice with a normal tone of voice, she whines for it.  And so I might say something like ….

Bob: Now, wait, how would that sound?

Dennis: Yeah, I want to know.

Bob: How would it sounds when she's whining?

Ginger:  (whining) Mooommmmyyy, can I have some juuuuuiiiiice?

Dennis: I'm breaking out in a cold sweat, even as we …

Ginger: Bringing back painful memories for Dennis?

Dennis: No doubt about it.

Ginger: And so let's say that she comes in, and she's whining and, you know, we might thing – "Well, you know, Ginger, you keep saying that God's Word is applicable for all these different aspects and struggles that our children are facing, but the Bible doesn't talk about whining.  So how do we know what to do?" 

But if you think about it, the Bible does talk about whining.  Whining is an issue of self-control, and so when my daughter would come into the kitchen and whine for the cup of juice instead of asking for it in that normal tone of voice, I might say, "Sweetheart, you know, God wants you to have self-control, even with your voice, and I love you so much that I want to help you to learn self-control.  And so what I'm going to do is I'm going to set the timer on the microwave for about five minutes, and when that timer goes off then you may come back and ask for the juice with self-control.

And so, you see, I didn't preach a sermon to her, I didn't use words that she couldn't comprehend.  I simply explained to her that God wants her to have self-control with her voice.  The consequences was making her wait five minutes, which could seem like an eternity for a small child, and then the most important part of that instruction, in my opinion, is having her come back and ask for it the right way using self-control with her voice.

And I would always say, "Sweetheart, I'll never give you what you want when you whine because God wants you to have self-control, and so when you show that self-control that I am going to be more willing to give you what you're asking for."

Dennis: Now, wait a second, Bob, I've got to ask you – you have five children?

Bob: Yes.

Dennis: Are you sitting over there piously saying your kids did not have a problem with whining?

Bob: Um …

Dennis: Just not in the Lepine genetic structure?

Bob: You know, what I'm sitting here think is, "Boy, I'm glad those days are over and I'm glad I can't remember a lot of the times we went through."

Dennis: I've got to ask Keith – Keith is our engineer out in the control room.  Keith, you were shaking your head.  Is this an issue or was this an issue in your family?

Keith: (whining)  I don't know, I can't …


Ginger: Now, Keith, are you having self-control of your voice?

Keith: (whining) I just want – come on – keep recording.

Bob: Yeah, well, we'll come back to you in 10 minutes and see if you've got a better sound in your voice, all right?

Keith: (not whining) Yes, Bob.

Bob: There we go.

Dennis: You know, as I consider this subject of whining, I think about my daughter, Ashley, again, who is in the process of dealing with four boys, and, I mean, the problem is – and, you know, I want to agree with you, Ginger, that, yes, this is the proper way to handle it.  But when you've got four little birds around you with their mouths all open chirping at the same time, it's tough to maintain your own sense of well-being in a mature fashion, to be able to turn to those children individually and begin to address them without just almost screaming in return, "Would everybody please just shut up?"

Bob: You know, I have had this thought – there have got to be some moms who have been listening this week, and they think your guest, this Ginger Plowman lady, has two kids, right?

Ginger: Right.

Bob: Yeah, have her come back to me when she's got four kids, five kids – if I had two kids, we'd be doing all of this stuff, too, but with four or five it gets to be crazy.

Ginger: And you know what?  It got to be crazy even with two children, and it can get to be crazy even with one child, because it is frustrating, especially when you're training those children in the same things over and over and over …

Dennis: … and over and over again.

Ginger: And let me just tell you my life verse for parenting.  It's Galatians 6:9.  It says, "Let us not become weary in doing good for at the proper time, we will reap a harvest if we do not give up."  We have to continue, we have to be diligent, and our responsibility is not just to teach them that one time and to expect them to automatically have it just like in many things, it takes practice and practice and more practice.

Dennis: Okay, let's move off of whining and complaining.

Ginger: Okay.

Dennis: And let's talk about aggravating your brother or your sister.

Bob: Your children are three years apart, right?

Ginger: Right.

Bob: So did you have conflict between them as they were growing up?

Ginger: Still have conflict between them as they're growing up.  That's something that we'll always be dealing with.  Yes, I did, and I can remember, in particular, one time when my son, Wesley, was going through this thing where he was intentionally aggravating his younger sister, Alex.  This one thing that he would do – he would get down on all fours just growing and snarling and drooling as he would charge after her like a lion.  And I don't know why she wouldn't like that, but she didn't.

He would also come up with other "games" that were irritating at her expense.  And, I tell you, Bob, I sounded like a broken record all day long.  "Wesley, stop!"  "Wesley, quit!"  "Wesley, Alex doesn't like that."  And his response was the same every time, he would say, "Well, yes, ma'am, but I'm just playing with her."  So it was this neverending cycle all day every day – "Wesley, stop!"  "Yes, ma'am, but I'm just playing with her."  "Wesley, quit!"  "Yes, ma'am, but I'm just playing with her."  "Wesley, Alex doesn't like that!"  "Yes, ma'am, but I'm just playing with her."

 And so it just went on and on, and the problem with the situation was that I was not looking at it in terms of the heart issues.  I was just addressing the outward behavior, and so he would stop what I told him to stop, but he would just move on to a similar behavior that was equally as aggravating to her.  And so I realized that I had to stop just addressing the outward behavior; that I had to move past that outward behavior and pull out what was going on in his heart, and so I would ask questions that would go something like this – I might ask Wesley, "Honey, judging from your laughter, you seem to be having a great time growling and chasing your sister.  Honey, are you having as much fun as you look like you're having?"

 And then I remember asking him that question, and he would just kind of raise one eyebrow thinking, "Okay, what's going on here?"  "Well, yes" …

Bob: "I'm getting set up here."

Ginger: Yeah, I'm getting set up.  And so he might – I remember him saying, "Well, yes, ma'am, I am having fun."  And then I would ask him, "Well, honey, is Alex having as much fun as you are?"  And then he squirms a little bit, and he says, "Well, no, ma'am."  "Well, tell me, Wesley, what is Alex doing?"  And then he pauses for a minute, and he says, "Well, she's screaming and crying."  And then I ask him, I say, "Are you delighting in Alex's suffering?  Because love does not delight in evil."  And I remember that scenario, and it doesn't always work out like this, Bob, but in that situation I can remember him looking down and thinking through the questions that I had asked him, and when he looked back up, he looked over at his sister and in all sincerity, he said, "Alex, will you forgive me for making you cry?"

 Now, I'm not going to tell you that it never happened again, because it did.  But when it did happen, I tried to remain faithful to always address it as an issue of the heart, and after that there were many times, after so many times of going through those questions and having him evaluate his own motives and his own heart, I began to reap the fruit from that training.

Dennis: There's two things taking place here – one is the maturity of the parent. 

Ginger: Right.

Dennis:  God, through the repetition of conflict, is wanting to teach us to learn how to be mature, specifically, more mature than our children and training them in doing what's right.  But the second thing that's occurring is a training of our children to know how to resolve conflict with another person biblically, because they're going to experience that for the rest of their lives, and that repetition, that training, can be exhausting for parents, but we still need to do it and still need to hang on.

Bob: The third thing that's on our poll that we all agreed is probably going to come in last, and we'll see if we're right, but it's the issue of tattling, and just because it may come in last doesn't mean it's not an issue, and I think we all know what tattling means, you know, it's when a child comes forward and tells on his brother or sister and, you know, there's part of me that goes, "Well, isn't that right or appropriate?"  If you've seen your brother or sister doing something wrong, and you come to mom and dad and say, "Mom, Dad, you need to know your son, your daughter, my little sister, my little brother, is doing something wrong here.  I just wanted to inform you because I want to see them be put on the right path."  Of course, that's not how they come and do it.

Ginger: That's rare.

Bob: Yeah, that's right.  So what's wrong with tattling?

Ginger: What's wrong with tattling is it can really damage the sibling relationship, because we want siblings to learn to encourage one another and to not delight in the other one getting in trouble.  Let me just give you a scenario of tattling.  Say that my daughter runs in the house, and she says, "Mom, you said that we're not allowed to be down in the creek, and Wesley is down in the creek catching tadpoles."  Well, see, in relying on my own wisdom, I might say, "Well, go tell him to come here, and I'll deal with it."  But, in doing that, I have failed to pull out what's going on in her heart.  And so I might stop and ask again those heart-probing questions that we talked about. 

I might ask Alex something like, "Honey, could it be that you are delighting in getting your brother in trouble?"

Dennis: And the answer is "Absolutely, Mommy."

Ginger: Right, and you can tell.

Dennis: I'm trying to make him look bad so I look good.

Ginger: That's right.  That is usually what the goal is, and you can tell if they're coming for the right reason or not.  Nine times out of 10 it's not – it's because they want to see that sibling get in trouble.

Dennis: Yeah.

Ginger: And I might say, "Sweetheart, did you know that one of the seven things that God hates is one who causes trouble with his brothers?"

Bob: So when a child comes and says, "Mommy, you told us not to play down in the creek, and Wesley is down playing in the creek," before you go – because now you do have an issue with Wesley.  He's disobeyed, right?

Ginger: That's right.

Bob: But before you go to address that you try and root out what may be a sinful pattern in your daughter's heart in bringing the information to you.

Ginger: That's right, because you tell that she was delighting in getting her brother in trouble.  And so "Love does not delight in evil."  That's what Corinthians says.

Bob: You know, there are some kids who are – I mean – they're just wired toward …

Dennis: … yeah, that's what I was going to say …

Bob: … that kind of black and white – and it's justice …

Dennis: … yeah …

Bob: It's that orientation of, "I don't want to see him get in trouble, but the universe is out of order because Wesley is down in the creek."

Ginger: But you know what?  If you don't want to see your brother get in trouble, then rather than coming and telling me that he's down in the creek, what could you have done to spur him on toward what's right?  And then she might say, "Well, I guess I could have told him, you know, Wesley, you're not supposed to be down in the creek, or you're going to get in trouble."  And so an important thing for me to do is to have her go back and say those words to her brother.

Dennis: Okay, let's say she does that, and Wesley goes, "Nanny nanny boo boo," and he says, "I'm staying in the creek.  You're not my mama."

Ginger: Which is a possibility, and …

Dennis: At that point what do you do?

Ginger: Well, in Matthew it says that when your brother sins, you go and reprove him in private.  If he listens to you, then you've won your brother.  If he does not listen, you take it to the church or, applied in the home, it would be the authority, which is Mom.  And so that would be appropriate.  If she has really, with a right motive, tried to spur her brother on and encourage him in what's right, and he refuses to listen, then it would be appropriate for her to then come to me.

Dennis: I can almost see the scene, though, of the little girl going back on the bank of the creek, folding her arms – "Now, you're in the creek, you shouldn't be in the creek," and what little boy …

Bob: … is going to listen to his little sister …

Dennis: … with her arms folded trying to be the older mother.  Do you know what I mean?

Ginger: I do know what you mean, but we have a responsibility, as parents, to train them in the right way to handle conflict, and the Bible does talk about tattling.  It says "tale-bearing."  We call it tattling, the Scriptures say "tale-bearing," and it says it's wrong, and that we should not delight in someone else's suffering.

 So, no, I can't control her heart, and I can't make her heart right.  Only God can do that.  But I can heed God's commands and fulfill my responsibility as her mother to point her to the Scriptures and to teach her the right way to handle it.

Bob: And this is where you do, as a parent, have to use some subjective wisdom and discernment and say what's really going on in a child's heart, and if a child comes and says, "Mommy, you told Wesley not to go in the creek, and he's down in the creek, and the reason you told him not to go down there is because the creek's up, and he could get swept away."  Now, again, I'm imagining …

Ginger: Right.  Usually, it's more like she runs in the house, and her hands are on her hips, and she says, "Hey, you said that we're not supposed to be down in the creek, and Wesley is down there in the creek."  You know, with this look of anticipation as to, "So what are you going to do about it?"

Bob: "I want to see Wesley get in trouble."

Ginger: That's right, that's right.  You can tell, parents – that's another thing that we need to pray for as parents – we need to pray for a discerning spirit, that we can discern what's going on in the hearts of our children.

Dennis: No doubt about it.

Ginger: And you know what?  In James 1:5, God says that we can ask Him for wisdom, and He promises that He'll give it to us.

Dennis: Parenting is not for the faint of heart.  It is one of the most challenging assignments on the planet.  FamilyLife started in 1976, but I'm going to tell you something, 30 years of leading at FamilyLife doesn't hold any weight compared to what it has been like to lead six children through all the various issues around these three things we've talked about today – whining and complaining, sibling rivalry, and then this last one, tattling.  I mean, you had to be Columbo, you'd have to be some kind of CSI agent to be able to figure out who was right and who was wrong and where the weight of evidence was.  I mean, parents do need to ask God for that discerning spirit and for the Holy Spirit to guide them.

Bob: And we're not always going to bat 1000, either – I mean, there will be times when we may have to come back to a child and say, "You know, I misjudged on that, and I need to ask you to forgive me," and that can be a part of the lesson that God's uses in your child's life and in our life as well.  I think the point is, we've got to approach this with wisdom and discernment and humility as we attempt to mold and shape the heart of a child through correction and through discipline.

 And that's really what we're focusing on this week – to try to help parents understand, "Let's not just get our kids to act right, but let's address the issues of the heart so that ultimately they want to please God, and they want to do what His Word says they ought to do." 

 And that's the focus of the book have you have written, Ginger, which is called "Don't Make Me Count to Three, a Mom's Look at Heart-Oriented Discipline," and, of course, we've go the book in our FamilyLife Resource Center, and if our listeners are interested in getting a copy, they can go to our website,, and find more information.

 In addition, they're going to find information about your No More Whining Kit, where you help parents understand how you can break the habit of whining that your children slip into from time to time, and you do it with a watch that a child wears that's a three-minute timer so if a child is whining you, as a parent, first of all, teach them, correct them, help them understand that the issue here is the issue of self-control.  It's a heart issue, and then you press the little button on the watch and tell the child that when the alarm goes off in three minutes, they can come back and try again without whining. So you're working both on the behavior and on the heart issue together with your child.

 And we've got both your book and the No More Whining Resource Kit with the watch in it in our FamilyLife Resource Center.  You can go to our website, which is, and on the right side of the home page, you'll see a box that says "Today's Broadcast."  If you click the button that says "Learn More" in that box, it will take you to an area of the site where there is information about these resources, and there is a link not only to Ginger's website, but there is also a link to our new FamilyLife Mom Blog, and we've got a number of young moms who are blogging this week about the subject of discipline and about some of the things that they've learned or observed or are doing to try to deal with early childhood discipline.

 Again, our website,  You can also contact us by phone, and we can make arrangements to have resources you need sent to you.  Our phone number, 1-800-FLTODAY, that's 1-800-358-6329, 1-800-F-as-in-family, L-as-in-life, and then the word TODAY.

 And please remember, when you do get in touch with us, that FamilyLife is a listener-supported ministry.  This program is on the air in this city on this station because of folks like you who help support the ministry to help keep it on not only in this city but in cities all across the country, and we appreciate your financial support of this ministry.

 We are in the last week of our Family First challenge campaign.  We've had listeners challenging other listeners to help support the ministry.  In fact, I heard from a listener recently who had been married more than 25 years, and she called to say, "I'd like all the others who are going the distance in their marriage like my husband and I are."  If you're past 25 years of marriage, consider making a donation, maybe $1 for every year that you've been married, maybe more than that, to help support the ministry of FamilyLife Today.  And we thought that was a great challenge.  We wanted to pass that along to you.  We appreciate whatever you can do to help support this ministry in the last week of our Family First challenge campaign.

 You can donate online at, or you can call 1-800-FLTODAY to make your donation.  Thanks for partnering with us.  We appreciate your financial support.

Now, tomorrow we want to talk about what happens when parents start threatening your children – "If you don't clean up your room, I'm going to pack up your toys and ship them all to" – we'll talk about how that works or how it doesn't work, on tomorrow's program.  I hope you can be with us for that.

I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team.  On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine.  We'll see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas – help for today; hope for tomorrow.  


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