It’s a fact of life that kids complain. They are no different than adults, but for some reason when children vent or voice their gripes, parents tend to get pretty worked up (myself included!). Honestly, it’s sometimes hard to muster sympathy when your child loses a toy for the millionth time (after you reminded her seven times to pick it up so the dog would not eat it), is devastated because the WiFi is down, or cries to you because his sister won’t include him in her play-date. It’s even harder to gush with compassion if you’re exhausted and frustrated by your own real world stressors. Plus, when you try to assist your complaining child, your efforts can easily backfire.
For example, let’s say your child gets off the bus ranting about all the kids and teachers that are stupid. Or my child complains: Mom, Hannah and her friend are in her bedroom and they won’t let me in to play and she says they need space! My life is awful. I hate her and I wish she wasn’t part of this family!
There are three ways things usually play out. Maybe you offer a reasonable solution: “Do you want to do something with me until they’re ready to come out?” Or you try to use logic: “Well, last time you had a play date you guys didn’t include her so it’s really not that unfair that she wants to play alone now.” Or, if you’re having one of your best parenting days ever, you complain about your child complaining: “I’m tired of you guys doing this! And don’t say you don’t want her be in this family, that’s really not nice and you’re lucky to have me and Daddy and your sister. “
No matter what you choose, chances are your child will respond with a meltdown, freak-out, or tantrum, likely with more complaining as well as tears, slamming of doors, and possible screaming.
The moral of this story is that when your child complains there’s not much you can do or say to make it better. Why? Because your child is not in the mood to hear your wise advice, consider your well-informed opinion, or process constructive feedback. This is not a teaching moment. So, what do you do?
First you validate. Here are a few good one-liners to memorize and use (even when—especially when—your child is complaining about something you can’t relate to and that makes you question his or her grasp on reality):
Wow (said empathetically, if you can swing it).
Second, you zip your lip. Sometimes things will blow over because lots of little grips don’t warrant a response and whatever you say will only make things worse. Other times things will calm down and you’ll be asked for your opinion or feedback. This is your cue to help your child problem-solve because the complaining is over. Plus, what you offer will be more readily accepted because your child is ready to hear it.
Regardless, the best way to approach a complaining child is to validate and then zip your lips until your wisdom is requested. Once you start using this tool, your child will catch on and begin to predict the way you’ll react to complaints. It won’t take long for venting sessions to shrink allowing you to skip some of the nonsense and move on with less drama.
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