When Your Child is a Chronic Complainer

You may have children who whine a lot. They may tattle on their siblings, complain about things that you’re not doing right, cry about house rules, moan and groan about school, etc. Part of their “acting out” is this kind of constant annoying level of voicing grievances. What do you do?

Establishing a Grievance Time—

Set up a “grievance time” (e.g., after dinner). This is a time where you’re going to sit down with these children for five minutes – and that’s their time to register complaints. That’s when they get to tell you what’s really on their mind. You may even instruct them to keep a journal so they can keep track of grievance and write them down. So, something goes into their “grievance journal,” and then in grievance time, you take the time to explain it to them and point things out to them.


This approach is a much more focused situation in which they can’t pretend not to understand or pretend not to hear. The great thing about the use of grievance time is, if the kids start “bitching” at 3:00 PM, you can say, “Write that in your grievance journal please, and we’ll talk about it at the grievance time.” In this way, the parent gets a way to defer the complaint and do what is called a “redirect.” You are effectively redirecting the kids to another task instead of the task that their complaining about – or instead of complaining about you.

How to Help Resolve Complaints—

The ability to solve problems can be broken down into two separate but related parts:

• Analysis: this is the ability to break a problem down into its sub-parts and look at these closely to see how they fit together.
• Synthesis: having broken the problem down into its sub-parts, put the parts back again in such a way as to make sense of the original problem we are tackling.

The two aspects of problem-solving, analysis and synthesis, are vital steps towards a proper understanding of how to tackle problems. However, it has been found that many young people have great difficulty applying these steps. They fail to appreciate that problems can be broken down into more manageable blocks and tend to see them globally – as a whole – rather than in an analytical sense. As parents, there are a number of steps we can take to help our kids grasp this point:

1. After kids have generated their ideas and alternatives, help them evaluate the consequences. For example, “What might happen if . . .? Would it be safe? Would it be fair? How would everyone feel?” Parents should encourage kids to evaluate their ideas and see why they are acceptable or unacceptable.

2. Allow your youngster to fail. It hurts to see your youngster suffer or struggle, however the most important lessons are learned through our mistakes. Unless you youngster is in physical danger, allow them to learn cause and effect. A skinned knee, although sad, is just a skinned knee. Your youngster will learn that the behavior that caused the skin knee should be adjusted for future. Like my mom told me, you touched the stove once and never did it again. A youngster does not understand a stove is hot until they touch it themselves no matter your warning.

3. Ask for a decision. After kids evaluate their ideas, parents should restate the problem, summarize their ideas and let kids decide which actions they would like to try. If kids choose an idea that you think will not work, make sure they know what their alternatives are and what they should try next.

4. Ask your child if he has any ideas for how to solve his problem. If your child can suggest a possible solution, encourage him to implement them and report back to you. Some children simply need a little support and are happy to handle their own problem. If your child can’t suggest a possible solution, tell your child that you’re not sure how to solve the problem and wait for his response. He will likely be perplexed at your admission that you don’t have an answer. After all, parents are the source for answers! After he gets over his shock, try redirecting the conversation back towards helping your child come up with his own solution. By covertly putting the ball back in your child’s court, you empower him think of a possible solution and encourage him to implement it.

5. Be patient. Allowing your kids to problem solve can be frustrating. Most parents give in, not because they want to fix their kid's problems per say, but it's just easier and faster to fix the problem yourself. Don't give in. You will do your youngster a disservice.

6. Generate alternatives. Help kids stay focused on their problems and ask what they can do to reach their goals. When kids offer alternatives, repeat their ideas and ask them what else could be done. Don’t criticize their ideas. Instead, prompt more solutions by asking the kids questions. If they cannot think of alternatives, ask them to imagine how someone else might handle the situation.

7. Get the facts and identify feelings. When kids are fighting, angry, frustrated or upset, identify the problem. When asking kids to tell you their problems, you need to be calm and nonjudgmental. Kids see things from their own perspectives and may be completely unaware of how their actions affect other kids. Helping kids identify their own feelings and recognize the feelings of others is an important step.

8. Have your child explain the situation. As he talks, listen to his full explanation without interjecting your own thoughts or asking clarifying questions. This way your child will have an opportunity to voice all concerns without feeling he was cut off.

9. Help kids set the conflict-resolution goal and define what they want to happen in the situation. When kids have clear goals, it’s easier to think of solutions.

10. Make suggestions. Instead of fixing a problem, offer alternatives that your youngster can do to fix the problem. Don't constantly give them what they need. Give them options, and they will gradually learn that there are alternatives and choices to get out of a tough situation.

11. Repeat aloud your child’s concerns, asking follow up questions, as necessary, to make sure you understand the problem. By repeating his concerns, you allow him to feel that his words and concerns are important and you validate his feelings. In many instances, children simply want to feel that their concerns are heard and valid, so this approach may, on its own, help your child calm down.

12. Whether your child thought of a solution on his own or needed a little direction, check in with your child to see how his solution worked. Celebrate with him if the solution was a success (e.g., a “high-five” or hug) or offer support and begin brainstorming once more if the problem was not entirely solved.

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