Does your child complain constantly? No matter how hard you try, something is always wrong: from what you made for dinner, to the horrible school you force her to attend, to the unfair rules in your house and everything in between.
If you’re like most parents, you’ve tried to point out that things aren’t nearly as bad as your child makes them out to be. You’ve tried to reason with her, explain your rules, defend your choices and make things better in some way.
A lot of parents want their kids to be able to speak up for themselves. They want to show their kids that they are willing to hear them out when something feels unfair. They want to encourage kids to voice their opinions. But when complaints take up most of the day, how do you set limits? What can you do? The solutions are easier than you might think.
- Try stepping out of the problem. It’s tempting to jump in and solve whatever is causing your child’s complaint. Unfortunately, that can get you stuck in an argument or set off even more complaints. Instead, keep your comments focused on the feeling, rather than on finding a solution or a defense. For example, if your child complains about her teacher, instead of defending the teacher or the school, you might say, “I hear that you’re upset about that. Do you need to vent, or are you hoping to find a solution?” Sometimes simply letting your child voice her feelings allows the complaint to dissipate on its own. This has the added bonus of subtly redirecting your child to think of how she might respond to her challenges in more effective ways. For more on this topic, this article on helping kids move past victim thinking is a great resource: “It’s Not Fair!” How to Stop Victim Mentality and Thinking in Kids.
- Establish a complaint time. Sometimes, we all just need a little breather. If those complaints keep coming at you all day long you can establish a “complaint time,” as James Lehman advises. Set aside a time each day, like after dinner, when your child has 10 minutes to complain about everything that’s bothering him. Limit it to that time of day and that amount of time. If he forgets and starts being critical about something, just remind him that he can tell you all about it at complaint time that night. You can also give him a journal in which he can write everything down, if he complains that he’ll forget what he’s complaining about! For younger kids, you might make complaint coupons – 3 or 4 for a day, and once those coupons are gone, they have to wait until the next day to voice their complaints.
Remember that this isn’t about whether your child’s complaints are legitimate or not – sometimes kids (and grown ups) just need to be heard. You don’t have to argue with every complaint, or come up with a solution for every challenge your child faces. You also don’t have to be subjected to constant complaints all day long. By using these two tools – putting a time limit on complaints, and acknowledging feelings rather than finding solutions – you can make a calm little bubble of complaint-free space around you.
For more on negativity in kids and teens, read the article, Negative Children: How to Deal with a Complaining Child or Teen.
Are you living with constant complaining? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below. Wishing you some moments of peace this week!
Denise, Empowering Parents Coach
Denise Rowden is a parent of two teens: an 18-year-old daughter and a 19-year-old son. She has worked in Special Education, Alternative Education and adolescent group homes. She has a BS in Psychology from the University of Southern Maine and is currently working on her Life Coach certification from the International Coach Federation.