Dealing with disagreements, arguments, or hurt feelings can be hard. But do you know what can make conflicts worse? Gossip. During conflict, it’s tempting to turn to gossip as a way to “vent our feelings.” And while there’s a place for talking through hard things or seeking the advice of those we trust, if we aren’t careful, it’s easy to use a request for “prayer” or advice about something as just an excuse to gossip. And gossip, the Bible tells us, is a sin.
We’ve all been guilty of gossip at one point or another—even kids! But while adults seem to recognize gossip as a problem, few spend time talking to kids about gossip, helping kids avoid gossip, or engaging in the basics of teaching kids what is gossip and what is simply asking for help or sharing feelings.
Here are four tips for talking to kids about gossip, helping kids avoid gossip in their lives by teaching them what gossip is and how to properly work through conflict the way Christ wants them to.
1. Teach Kids What Gossip Is
The first step towards talking to kids about gossip is helping children to recognize what gossip is. Gossip is when you talk about a person or situation in a way that’s negative, untrue, unfair, or unproductive—sharing nothing but baseless information, sordid details, or grievances you have against a person, without taking any steps to actually speak with the person themselves about the matter or move forward in a Christ-like manner.
Someone hurt your feelings and the first thing you do is go rant to a friend about it to make yourself feel better, without taking the time to calm down, ask for advice, or try to see things the way God would? That’s gossip. Learn something interesting about a person and want to share it with someone else without first asking that person for permission, how they feel about it, or if it’s true? That’s gossip. Retelling a story of something that happened to you, but decide to twist the facts slightly or only focus on the negative aspects of someone else to make yourself appear in a better light? That’s gossip.
While asking for advice or sharing fun stories with friends is good, gossip is bad because it usually involves saying something that could hurt someone else—whether they’re around to hear it or not. Giving kids realistic, personal examples of what gossip might look like and how it can hurt others is important for helping kids avoid gossip and recognize it in the world around them. When talking to kids about gossip, don’t be afraid to share any times you might have accidentally gossiped or have been gossiped about, and how that felt or hurt others.
2. Teach Kids How to Ask for Advice Without Gossip
The second tip for helping kids avoid gossip is teaching kids what is gossip and what is simply asking for advice. Sharing feelings with others, especially hard ones when we’re feeling hurt, is an important part of feeling loved, heard, and supported by friends and family. Kids need to know that they can always talk honestly about conflict and their feelings, but they should do so without being mean.
The difference lies in how kids use their words. When talking to kids about gossip, tell them that instead of saying something like “Peter is such a jerk for taking my pen”, they should say “When Peter took my pen without asking, it made me feel like he doesn’t respect my things. How should I handle this?” Ask kids to spot the difference between the two phrases, then discuss with them about how they can choose helpful words during conflict. You might also want to read James 1:19-20 with them and talk about what it looks like to be “slow to speak” when they feel they’ve been wronged. You can learn this verse with kids and then pray with them, asking God to help both of you practice slow speech during conflict, helping kids avoid gossip temptations.
3. Learn to Test the Heart’s Intention
The third tip towards helping kids avoid gossip and understand the difference between gossip and sharing feelings, is teaching kids to test their heart’s intention before speaking. For example, when talking to kids about gossip, challenge them to ask themselves questions like “Will sharing this help me address the problem in a way that honors God?” or “Will sharing this help me get the support I need to solve the conflict with the person and ultimately build that person up, or will it only make me feel more justified in tearing them down?” If kids are unsure what the difference between the two is, point kids to Ephesians 4:25-31, which compares corrupting talk with talk that builds others up. Be sure to test childrens’ comprehension by asking what “corrupting talk” means, before sharing how they might instead choose words that build others up.
4. Practice Going to the Right People
Last but not least, when talking to kids about gossip, it’s important to encourage children to ask the right people for godly advice. Talking with someone who will help you solve the conflict in a godly way is a good thing and one of the many ways God provides His wisdom to us. In fact, sometimes it’s that simple act of seeking godly advice or prayer from someone you trust that can spell the difference between gossip and connection.
For helping kids avoid gossip, make a list with them of the people they can trust to go to for sound, biblical advice. As a rule, this list should be small—consisting of only one or two people who won’t share their situation with others to limit the spread of more gossip. It might be tempting for children to fill that list with only their friends or classmates, but it’s important that we seek the opinion of those who are older and wiser than us too when looking for good advice. To do this, encourage kids to pick one or two friends they trust, and then to add one or two adults who will be good listeners and point them to God’s way to their list as well—like parents, Sunday school teachers, or school counselors. To help them narrow down who would be a good choice, ask them to think of people they trust enough to be honest with when they feel guilty about a mistake or bad deed. A key phrase to remember is “good advice needs good facts”, and those good facts only come when we’re honest about the whole situation.
Lastly, be sure to remind children that it’s never considered wrong or gossip to come to someone about a serious conflict, such as abuse. By sharing what happened with trusted adults or authorities, bringing these sins to light is how we make sure both the child and the person who hurt them get the help they need—helping to build others up, while reflecting God’s holy character and love of justice.
Talking to kids about gossip, helping them to recognize it in themselves and others by teaching kids what is gossip and what is godly, is key towards helping kids avoid gossip in their lives and the harm it can cause. Don’t let the temptation of gossip seep into your family. Let’s use our tongues for peacemaking this year; helping to diffuse conflicts, rather than blowing them up even bigger.