unhappy child

Featured: Parenting Advice

By Tyler Jacobson

I’m sure that I’m not the only parent that gets frustrated at how much my child complains. Sometimes I put a lot of effort into an outing or opportunity for my child and then they complained during the entire experience.

On the other hand, if I decide to not to pursue certain opportunities for my child, they complain about how we never do anything together. Honestly, it feels like no matter what I do my child will complain about something. It’s led to feelings of being underappreciated; and then I got cranky and resentful. So, I decided that we needed to break this unhealthy cycle. Here’s how I did it!

  1. I took a look at the expectations I had for my child. Did I set up an activity that forced my child into doing something I liked instead of what they liked? Maybe I put emphasis on things I valued instead of what my child valued. I found on self-reflection that there was more room for negotiation than I thought. If I found it necessary to insist on doing things my way, then I was going to have to accept the complaints that followed. Sometimes we ask our kids to do things to help them grow and not because they like it. When I have realistic expectations I’m able to cope with my kid’s criticisms better. Having this mindset allows me to be more flexible and accepting of my kid’s attitude.
  2. I decided to practice more gratitude myself. When was the last time I told my kids I was grateful for them and what they contributed to our family? How can I expect my kids to practice a behavior I don’t emulate myself? So I decided to share with my kids what things I was grateful for. Sometimes this small tactic can get my kids talking about what they are grateful for too. There are a lot of things I could do to encourage more gratitude in my children. First, and foremost sitting down and asking them what they were grateful for.
  3. I decided I needed to set up some rules to limit complaining. Sure, I could be more flexible and thoughtful to my children but sometimes I needed some complaint free time. There are several different ways to go about this. There’s the rule that they don’t get to complain about an event until after it is over. If you need some space tell them that you will discuss it with them at a specific time–after dinner, after school, or in the morning. You can even suggest they write the complaints down for you. In fact, teaching kids to vent by writing things down is healthy coping technique.
  4. I’ve freed myself from responsibility of fixing all their complaints. As the Dad I like to fix things for my kids. In fact, I fall into the trap of automatically assuming it is my job. So, when they complain I want to come up with the magic solution to make it all better. I realized that sometimes I need to take a step back and give my kid responsibility for fixing the problem. I only need to be there to offer support. I can listen and empathize with my kid so they feel heard and that can be the end of it. I don’t have to change anything. I only have to love them.
  5. I found more opportunities to give my child a voice. Kids get a lot of satisfaction from having choices offered to them. It fulfills the need they have to be independent. However, you can manage the options they’re given to make sure the outcomes are all still reasonable. By reasonable, I mean outcomes that you can deal with. Choices could look like this: “We are going to the park today. Would you like to go to Park A or Park B?” or “It’s going to be cold this morning. Would you like to wear your purple sweater or your blue coat?” You know that whatever they choose, you can (and will) follow through with their choice. A better example for older kids/teens would be: “Our family is going to spend the day together. But can help us decide what we’re going to do. Do you want to have a movie marathon? Or play touch football at the park and have a picnic?”Sometimes simply involving them more in the decision making process can resolve a lot of tension. Another benefit to this is holding them accountable later when they complain. “I don’t want to play at this park anymore! Why did we come here!?” – The parent get’s to say “Well, I’m sorry you’re unhappy. We came here because you picked this park so let’s make the best of it.”

Just like teaching my children about respect took time and effort so will teaching them to complain less. I need to reflect on whether my expectations fit with what my child really needs. I try to model gratitude and tell them how grateful I am for them so they can practice gratitude themselves. I put limits on complaining so we can all keep our sanity. I give myself the space to let my kid take responsibility for their complaints. I’m here to offer support and love them. That is my number one job as their Dad.

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Tyler Jacobson

As a father of three, Tyler Jacobson lends his parenting experiences for the learning benefit of parents everywhere. For years he has researched and writes for Liahona Academy and other organizations that help troubled boys, focusing on topics surrounding social media use, teenage education, serious addiction issues, mental and behavioral disorders, and abnormal teenage stress. Follow Tyler on: Twitter | LinkedIn
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