“Help! My Kid Complains Constantly!”

Posted April 22, 2016 by

“Help! My Kid Complains Constantly!”

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.

  1. 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.
  1. 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 in The Total Transformation Program. 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.

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  1. buddhapunkin (Edit) Report

    My mother just always figured my emotions weren’t her problem. She was going to argue with me on what I dealt with in school, and if I didn’t like it, it was my responsibility as a 14 year old child to decide not to talk to her about it all. Funny thought how as soon as she got a job she always expected me to listen to her vent and refused any advice, funny how those double standards work ….

  2. Sabrina (Edit) Report

    My son definitly has ADHD. He can not stay still more than 15seconds. But i come to terms in understanding and having patience for him. This is a great post! Acknowleding the feeling behind the complaints is very true. Thanks!

  3. IzzKH81 (Edit) Report

    My daughter is 9 years old with ADHD and ODD. It has been such a challenge!! She’s complains about everything which can feel defeating at times. She complains so much about physically not feeling well. I have tried to change her diet, have her rest, not rest and push through but she still says she doesn’t feel good. If she’s not complaining about her stomach hurting, it’s her ankle hurts, or her bruises hurt. I’ve tried to disengage but then she says I just don’t care. 99.9% of the time she bounces right back if there is something that gets her attention that she wants to do. I have her in camps and try to make sure she has friends to play with (as long as she hasn’t burned them out too).
    I don’t think she’s really sick. But I don’t know what to do!!! does anyone have any ideas or experience this?

    • rwolfenden Report

      It can be really difficult when your child is constantly
      complaining about everything.  With complaints concerning her physical
      health, I encourage you to take her to her doctor if you haven’t already done
      so.  Because s/he has the ability to directly interact with and observe
      your daughter, the doctor will be in a better position to assess what might be
      going on, and able to rule out any underlying issue which might be contributing
      to these complaints.  Please be sure to let us know if you have any
      additional questions.  Take care.

  4. Stepmom (Edit) Report

    How do you balance trying to listen with telling them to knock it off, especially when there’s no fixing the problem they’re complaining about and the kid isn’t just looking to vent – they want to keep rubbing it in your face that you can’t fix it.  

    We had problems with my stepdaughter complaining about issues that we had no control over and could not fix and her dad one time completely lost his temper and blew up over her repeating the same complaint for the umpteenth time. Now we’re hearing from her therapist that she feels like we don’t care about her problems and that we don’t do anything to fix what she’s upset about.  This is all over issues that are “unfortunately, life is unfair” type of things and listening to her ruminate about them over and over with constant complaining wouldn’t have been any healthier.

    • Empowering Parents Coach drowden Report

      You bring up an interesting point. There may be times when
      there isn’t any solution yet letting your child vent about the issue doesn’t
      seem to help. In these cases, the child might find some consolation in
      journaling. Outside support, in the form of a counselor or therapist, could
      also be useful. Given time, your stepdaughter hopefully will be able to work
      through this issue with her therapist. Debbie Pincus offers
      additional tips for dealing with a complaining teen in her article https://www.empoweringparents.com/article/negative-children-how-to-deal-with-a-complaining-child-or-teen/. Best of luck to you
      and your family moving forward. Be sure to check back and let us know how
      things are going. Take care.

  5. Juleswalker35 (Edit) Report

    I feel like there must be a microphone in my house.  These article always pertain to our family.  Thank you for the wonderful advice.  It helps me be a better parent.  I’ll keep trying.

  6. msbebi92 Report

    I am a caregiver for a wonderful 8 year old boy. I’m not sure of his medical conditions, but he’s usually very anxious. He is a person of habit. He would prefer things to eat the same things. He gets frustrated with everyone and everything. 
    How to deal with complain, being directly at me.  He gets very hurtful.

    Thank you .

    • Empowering Parents Coach drowden Report

      I hear you. Kids can say things that are not only
      disrespectful but also quite hurtful. One effective way of addressing the
      behavior is by disconnecting and walking away. Say to him something like “It’s
      not OK to say that to me. I don’t like it.” And then walk away if you are able
      to. If you’re not able to walk away, you can disengage from the situation by
      not communicating with him until things have calmed down. Not personalizing what he
      says is also going to be beneficial. Even though this behavior may feel
      personal, it’s really not about you. It’s about him not having the skills to
      deal with a situation he finds frustrating or upsetting. I would also talk with
      his parent(s) about the situation. Perhaps they can help you coordinate a
      response to this behavior as well. We appreciate you writing in and wish you
      the best of luck moving forward. Take care.

  7. Desperate mom (Edit) Report

    Hi I would like to hire Denise Rowden as a life coach for my 18year old with mental Problems! He has been in facilities before. Thank you

  8. Complaint Time not (Edit) Report

    I am thinking that it would be better to have the “complaint time”  not be right after dinner.  It would be good have it farther away from a meal time.  
    I once heard a wise teacher share that we should work to make meal time a happy time.  We do not want to get hurtful, emotional pain connecting in any way
    to food!   It can lead to eating disorders or negative connections to certain foods.  I can remember my Grandmother sharing with me that as a little girl she was spanked
    for not eating cabbage.  In her seventies, just the smell of cooked cabbage would make her fee very ill.  So sad to me.    Never force a child to eat  anything.
    Provide good choices in a pleasant atmosphere.  A great study showed putting food choices before toddlers.  One
    day they might only choose to eat bananas, but over time they had an overall healthy balance.  Maybe on that day they just needed more of the nutrients that  bananas provide.
    Anyway, we do not want the mindset of older children to be focused throughout  a meal on what they are going to share in the “complaint time.”   If possible have it
    after school, earlier before dinner — to get it out of the way   I would enjoy hearing thoughts on the most  emotionally healthy and helpful times  from others.  Thank you.

    • Susan LMFT (Edit) Report

      She was giving after dinner as an example, not a must. And for something negative to be associated with mealtime it would have to occur during mealtime, not afterwards.

  9. Louise Alford (Edit) Report

    Thank you for all your guidance and support.  I love sharing with family and friends and Trudy and I always share your wisdom with the students in our college class as well. Sincerely,  Louise Alford

  10. forppq Report

    Loved this article! Just what I needed to read. My 11 year old daughter often complains and it’s been very hard not wanting tio fix it or tolerate her words. Thank you for helping me know this is normal and what to do to help best. I do appreciate getting your emails.
    Thank you.

  11. Svetlana J (Edit) Report

    Thank you for the great article. It’s true that very often we think being a good parent means finding a solution for every problem our child has, right on the spot. Sometimes it’s better to just take a step back and let the kids deal with their feelings. I love the tip about having a “complaint time”. Thank you!



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