When kids complain, parents often don’t know what to do. They may try to convince their children that there is nothing to complain about or they will try to fix the situation to make their child happy.
Either way, kids will still whine and grumble.
The best way to handle your child’s gripe is to deliver empathy. This makes children feel heard and also teaches them to take responsibility for their own negative feelings–and to change them. Empathy helps children understand that they are not prisoners to their tough emotions.
Kids do not like to feel annoyed and irritated–who does?–but they may get bogged down by it. Empathy helps pull them out of their bad mood by giving them the space to have such emotions, and then providing a neutral ground where they can asses “next steps.” Instead of a struggle about whether it’s a big deal that your child doesn’t like what’s being served for dinner, or creating a quick fix via mom whipping up a new meal, empathy acknowledges the issue and, as such, puts a cap on the complaining without making your kids intolerable of uncomfortable situations.
Here are some examples of how this works, where instead of making your child happy or denying their feelings, you can try delivering empathy:
Your child complains that his shoes are too tight right when it is time to leave:
a. Your shoes are really uncomfortable.
b. You wish we didn’t have to leave right now so you had time to change your shoes.
c. While we are in the car, let’s think of a time that we can go to the shoe store and get new shoes.
d. I bet you wish we could go to the shoe store right now.
e. I am so sorry about your shoes; what are you going to do?
Your child complains about her schoolwork:
a. You seem concerned about your schoolwork. You sound a little overwhelmed.
b. You wish you didn’t have to do this report. You wish homework assignments weren’t so time-consuming.
c. Sounds rough. Did you have some thoughts on how you are going to get organized?
Your child does not want to go to bed:
a. You seem upset about your bedtime. You really don’t feel like getting into bed.
b. You wish that you could go to sleep later. You wish you didn’t have to go to sleep so early!
c. You are having a hard time with this. It is bedtime. How are you going to get into bed and get yourself to sleep?
It is normal for children to complain and whine. Even adults do it sometimes. Kids need to be taught that it is okay, but there are limits. They need to pull themselves together take responsibility for their feelings and handle their everyday problems. Empathy helps them do just that.
Adina Soclof, MS. CCC-SLP, works as a Parent Educator for Bellefaire Jewish Children’s Bureau facilitating How to Talk so Kids will Listen and Listen so Kids will Talk workshops as well as workshops based on Siblings Without Rivalry. Adina also runs parentingsimply.com.