Parents tend to be resilient when it comes to their kids are going through a difficult time. However, there is a common scenario we all face: listening to our kids complain.
Sure, there are situations that warrant a child’s nagging and complaining—not feeling well, being overscheduled and run down, getting treated unfairly by a friend—but there are plenty of scenarios that a child uses as the perfect excuse to simply whine and complain—for absolutely no reason at all.
When children whine and complain, it’s frequently because they want something different than what they’re getting. They may not know how to communicate their needs effectively, therefore, they use the best tool they know—droning on with endless complaints until their parent finally caves and gives in.
Chronic complainers (kids and adults!) are no fun to be around. With 8 kids, Mighty Mommy has endured her share of little complainers and knows how draining this behavior can be. Here are six easy-to-implement strategies that will curb your kid’s complaining once and for all.
Announce That Change is Coming
When you’re trying to change a situation or behavior that is unacceptable, one of the first things you need to address is clearly explaining to your child that his chronic complaining is no longer going to be tolerated. Simply stated, you need to announce that change is coming.
In an article from The Child’s Mind Institute, Managing Problem Behavior at Home, the article states that kids need to know what the expectations are when it comes to an unacceptable behavior: “Assuming expectations are understood: Don’t assume kids know what is expected of them: spell it out! Demands change from situation to situation and when children are unsure of what they are supposed to be doing, they’re more likely to misbehave.”
In the case of a kid who loves to complain about nearly anything he is not happy about, have a one-to-one meeting with him and calmly announce that you will no longer be tolerating unnecessary complaints. Keep it simple. “Jack, we apologize that in the past, Dad and I have responded to your whining and complaining. That’s going to change. Going forward, if you are unhappy about a situation we’d be happy to listen to a reasonable discussion, but from here on out, this household is a no whining zone.” Then—be consistent!
Train Them Up, Not Down
As the busy parent of 8 kids, I regularly read articles, books and listen to parenting podcasts to learn new techniques and stay abreast of all things parenting. One of my favorite authors is Dr. Kevin Leman, Psychologist and a New York Times Bestselling Author. Dr. Leman’s parenting philosophy is that parents should train their kids up, not down — in other words expect more from your kids, and they will rise to the occasion.
“Complaining only continues because it pays off” says Dr. Leman. He has a phrase that he loves to use when kids come to a parent with complaints and that is “I’m sure you can handle this.” He advises that parents deflect the complaint right back on the child to find the solution. He then says to say it once, turn your back and walk away. “This disengages the complainer right in his tracks and takes his complaining power away.” See Also: How To Effectively Impose Consequences for Bad Behavior
Interchange Complaints with Gratitude
I’ve long been a believer in focusing on what we can be grateful for, rather than what we don’t have or might be lacking in our life. A recent article, Stop Complaining With This 1 Simple Tip, not only validated this belief but also pointed out how practicing gratitude can help keep complaining at bay. The article shares some great advice by Gretchen Rubin, author of the New York Times bestseller The Happiness Project. (One of my favorite books!). Rubin says “We have a natural tendency to drift downward and focus on negative interactions, or petty grudges, or inconveniences, because they come to our attention more than positive things,” she said, “which is why we need to intervene and redirect our attention.”
One crucial tip? “Try using gratitude to drive out your frustration,” Rubin said. “If you find yourself complaining about someone, try to find reasons to feel grateful to that person.”
Kids tend to rely on what they know best, so if they are used to getting a reaction when they misbehave or complain, they’re going to keep at it until they get the desired result—which is getting their own way. If your child automatically responds to discipline or disappointment with whining or complaining, then teach him how to properly react.
If your child automatically responds to discipline or disappointment with whining or complaining, then teach him how to properly react.
For example, a child’s appropriate response to not getting to hang out with her friend every day after school might be, “Ok, mom, maybe I can do it tomorrow?” Go ahead and model this and similar responses when your child goes into complain mode. Keep your voice calm and don’t get agitated, as that is letting your child know she’s getting a reaction from you. (Remember Tip #2) Instead, model the response you’d like to see your child use. “I understand mom, let’s see if we can make it work on Friday.”
In an on-line article written by Amy Morin, LCSW, How to Deal with a Child Who Constantly Complains she recommends turning the complaint into the opportunity to teach problem solving skills. “If your child is complaining to you about something, encourage him to solve the problem. If he says, “I’m hot,” while he’s playing outside, ask, “What do you think you should do about that?” If he needs help thinking of options, remind him he could sit in the shade or ask for help getting a cold drink.”
Morin states that “Teaching your child problem-solving skills can help him see that coming to you and complaining isn’t likely to fix the problem. But, he can ask for help solving the problem or he can figure out how to solve the problem on his own if it’s age appropriate to do so.”
By encouraging your child to think about a solution, they may be less likely to complain.
Be a Good Role Model
We are the number one role models for our children. When it comes to whining and complaining, they are going to emulate what they see and hear from us. We all need to share about the things that bother us, but it’s how we do it that makes the difference.
Remember that you always have an audience when your kids are in your presence (or within earshot of you!). We’re human so we’re going to get irritated and feel the need to whine and complain ourselves from time to time, but just as soon as it happens and you catch yourself, stop and apologize in front of your kids. “Mommy is really sorry that she just started complaining to the shopper behind us because the cashier was so slow. She may have been new and was just learning, so I should’ve been more patient instead of talking poorly about her.” By explaining why you’re sorry to your kids, you demonstrate that we need to be held accountable for our action.