Bet right now you are so regretting not signing your kids up for consecutive summer camps from the day school finished to the Friday before it starts again.
Bet right now you are thinking year-round school is the best.thing.ever.
Bet right now the sound of the words ‘Iiii’mmmm boooorrred!’ Whined at a tone of voice no parent can stand and is worse than nails on a chalkboard.
Bet right now you would give anything at all for that total stranger on the street to just hang out with your kids for 5 minutes.
Okay, not really. (Okay, really, just maybe a little bit, but ... not really).
Honestly, how on EARTH did our children learn to whine and complain THIS much? It seems to defy nature, doesn’t it? Just how little happiness, satisfaction and gratification our children can find in ever day life. Why are they not happy? They have food, they have shelter, they have water. They aren’t tired. They have toys. They have friends. They have a billion books. They have so many THINGS. Why are they not happy?
Complaining, my friends, is not really about being unhappy. It is not really about need, or want or being without anything specific. Complaining is about attention and laziness. And then on top of that, a large part of complaining is wanting one’s needs or wants to be acknowledged.
Letting your kids know that you hear their wants or needs, and that you know that they want/feel they need something actually allows them feel as though their feelings are heard, and, often, that is enough. Acknowledgement is important. It shows that you matter, that what you think and wants matter, and that someone are about what you think and want. That your opinion matters. That your thoughts matter. That YOU matter.
Back to the complaining and whining. Kids (and big people) whine and winge for a few legit reasons: hunger and thirst, stress, fatigue. The rest of the reasons are probably more for attention-seeking reasons. There are a couple of smart parent ways to respond that will help reduce the amount of whining you will hear in the future.
- Acknowledge, and then move on. As I said above, acknowledgement is important. Once you let your complainer know that you have heard their request, also let them know that they do not need to say it again. And again. And again. ‘Asked, and answered.’ My kiddos know that if they nag me, I literally cannot give them their request because it reaffirms the nagging. Why would I want to teach them that nagging works? I point out their behavior (the nagging), let them know I have heard their request and am considering it, and if they continue to ask, I will not be able to give it to them because they will be nagging, and in my attempt to be a good parent, I can’t in good conscience reinforce negative behavior. (Like that? :) ). A response like this not only teaches them to stop the nagging already, it also teaches them to accept and own responsibility for their actions. It also raises their awareness of how they are in control of what might happen; a mini self-efficacy lesson, if you will.
- Say yes... on your terms. Your kids get tired of hearing no all of the time probably as tired as you are of saying it. So say yes to the things you are okay with. ‘Yes, you can have a popsicle... as soon as you have finished your veggies.’ ‘Yes, you can go play outside ... as soon as you have finished 10 more minutes of homework.’ ‘Yes, you can plan a trip to the movies with your friends ... as long as you include your brothers, too.’ You get what you want, they get what they want, and everyone is happy.
- Do some of theirs, do some of yours. I’m not saying compromise, because meeting in the middle probably is not going to make anyone happy. Instead, do some of the things you want to do, and do some of the things they want to do. That way everyone contributes to the agenda, everyone does a thing or two that they want to do, and you all get to try something that perhaps you didn’t know you would like.
- Establish ground rules. Consistently reinforcing rules, and being on the same page as your parenting partner is key for controlling whining and nagging. Why? Because then your kiddos know what parameters in which they need to stay. They know what time bedtime is. They know what category snacks might fall into. They know asking for something when you are in the middle of a project is probably not going to get them the answer they are seeking. They know if one parent says no, the other one will not say otherwise. They know travel days are grouchy days for dad, and the best way to have what they want in the bag is to pack it themselves. They know that if they finish the things they HAVE to do, then when they ask for things they WANT to do, they will be more likely to receive a ‘Yes.’ They know that just because their friends have the latest phone/tech/clothes/toy, that does not mean that they will get it for themselves. Kids actually appreciate rules; they want to know what to expect. Having these rules established early, and clearly helps them to know what their boundaries are and allows them to practice their own individuality within these rules.
- Help your kids learn to focus on their positives. Instead of saying yes to everything, it is important for kids to understand that it is important to enjoy and appreciate what they already have in hand. Even if you are saying no, they still have a lot of things to enjoy and appreciate. You may not be buying them the latest phone, the chocolatiest snack, or the coolest sneakers. You might not have time to take them to the beach every weekend. It might be raining when they want to go out and swim. It can be challenging to be the one that is always pointing out the silver linings, especially without coming across Pollyanna-ish, but keep at it, because eventually they will be able to reframe their whining and complaining to want something, sure, but also appreciate what they already have and enjoy.
- Manage expectations, give an advance warning. The best way to avoid a rebellion or a revolt is to let your kids know what is coming. There is a reason why so many parents use that ‘5 minute warning’ leading up to things like playground departures or bedtime. Spelling out what is coming works well for little kids, for teens and even for big people: people like to know what is next. They like to know what the plan is. They like to know what is coming so they can save their emotional reactions for the myriad of other things and events that can pop up in a given day.
We can all find things to complain about. We can all find things that would otherwise make us grumpy or sad. We can all find things that we want. We can also be happy with who we are, what we have and where we are. It’s not so much of a glass-half-full or glass-half-empty sort of a thing so much as embracing acceptance and gratitude.