Each week parenting expert Annie Fox will share her wit and wisdom for teaching kids to be good people and strong learners.
No one is a happy camper all the time. It’s not realistic to expect to be and it’s certainly not a requirement. And yet we keep trying, don’t we? Especially those of us fortunate enough to live very well. When reality doesn’t meet our standards, we may feel compelled to let people know we are not pleased.
Speaking up can be the first step toward positive change. It can also help build self-respect and healthier relationships. Which is why, when a teen bitterly complains to me about a friend who isn’t acting like one, I counsel the teen to go on record and tell the friend, “This isn’t OK and here’s why.”
What’s the alternative? Staying silent? That’s not likely to improve a situation. So, yes, sometimes we need to complain.
But what do you do if your child is constantly complaining?
“This isn’t what I wanted!”
“You can’t make me!”
What if his/her negative attitude permeates everything?
I realize that finding fault may be an essential part of becoming a young adult. Unlike little kids who want to emulate their godlike parents, teens work overtime establishing their own unique identity, as different from us as imaginable. Teen negativity is often a display of independence, plain and simple. This may help us understand where it’s coming from, even though it doesn’t make the attitude any more fun to be around.
If your kid has gotten into the habit of grousing, s/he may outgrow it. (We can always hope!) But hope isn’t an effective parenting strategy and a negative attitude can pollute your family life. Rather than lashing out in frustration or suffering silently, I suggest a direct intervention that will, at the very least, give your child insight into what it is to live with constant griping.
I tackle the issue of habitual complaining in my book Teaching Kids to Be Good People. Here’s a brief synopsis that offers some tips on how to start turning around a negative attitude:
Conversation That Counts:
Some complaints are helpful; some aren’t. Discuss with your child the concept of complaining. Point out that some complaints are helpful. (“The roof is leaking on my head.” “We’re out of toothpaste again.”) These can become action points. Other types of complaints aren’t intended to be helpful. They’re simply a chance to vent or to blame. (“This assignment is boring!” “Why did I get her for a sister?” “You kids never do anything right!”)
Reverse role-play. Tell your child that you’re going to “act out” one (unhelpful) complaint that you regularly hear from him/her. Be realistic in your dramatization, but not unkind. Remember you’re trying to teach, not wound. Now ask your child to act out an unhelpful complaint s/he regularly hears from you. (Yes, this lesson is a two-way street.)
How much of a bad habit do we have? Discuss the regular grumbling and whining amongst family members that aren't meant to be helpful. What impact does it have? How might less complaining be an improvement?
Make a change. Challenge each family member to catch him/herself (not anyone else) in the act of complaining and try one of these responses instead:
a) Communicate directly about what needs to be done.
b) Skip the complaint and do some or all of what needs to be done (on your own).
c) Change what you can change and change your attitude about the rest.
Call another family meeting in a week to report on the progress everyone has made in creating a more positive atmosphere. Now work together to keep moving in the right direction during the holidays.
These are solely the author's opinions and do not represent those of TakePart, LLC or its affiliates.