Two Top Parenting Challenges – Part 1

Posted on October 26, 2015


How can I get my child to stop complaining?

How can I get my child to listen to me?

These are the two top parenting challenges I am asked about most often, and since they’re both great questions and top-priority concerns, we are going to address them one at a time. This week, let’s talk about WHY kids complain so much, which will give us some insight on HOW you can get them to stop complaining.

Next week, we can discuss WHY children don’t listen and HOW you can get them to start doing so.


Let’s first explore what the word “complain” really means. The Oxford Dictionary defines it as: “to express dissatisfaction, pain, uneasiness, censure, resentment, or grief; find fault.”

If you look closely, you’ll note that each one of the defining words is either a feeling itself or has a feeling hidden behind it. Before we explore the feeling, though, the first obvious step in addressing a complaining child is to:

  1. Explore the WHY—

“Why do you think nobody cares about you?”

“Why do you think you are bored?”

“Why do you not want to do your homework?”

Once we know the answer to the WHY, we can easily tap into the feeling. Engaging the intellect with the WHYs helps balance emotions and opens the door to communication. Even if your kids say, “I don’t know why,” their statement is still an expression of an underlying feeling. Next…

  1. Explore the feeling behind the complaint with a quick “Dealing with the Feeling” exercise. This emotional intelligence and emotional management tool is at the heart of the cutting-edge research explored extensively in my book, The “Perfect” Parent . The three steps of Dealing with the Feeling are:

1) Spot it—Spot the feeling behind the complaint: “I am bored.”

2) Say it—Say the feeling out loud: “I can see that you’re feeling sad that you have nothing to do.”

3) Okay it—Validate the feeling: “I understand how you feel. I feel sad when I’m bored too.” Or “It’s okay to feel bored sometimes.”

Now you can move to resolve. And remember to think outside the box: “When we are bored, it gives us a chance to be creative and think about what we can do to not feel bored. How about writing a letter to Grandma?”

This sort of proactive engagement with complaints teaches children how to self-manage their time. It also teaches children how to recognize, understand, and self-manage their own emotions, which is exactly what emotional intelligence is all about!

Last, and most importantly…

  1. Be aware of your family’s complaint-terrain.

Research tells us that we are all equipped with mirror neurons and that children’s habits are, more often then not, learned habits. When parents complain, they activate the mirror neurons in children’s brains to mimic the behavior.

Also keep an eye out for family or friends—anyone your child spends a lot of time with—who complain unnecessarily. Whoever it might be, try a quick Dealing with the Feeling with them, so that they can begin to manage the emotions behind their complaints. You might also let them know that their habit of complaining is rubbing off on your child.

Yes, it may take a little practice, but what victory was ever achieved without effort? As Mahatma Gandhi said, “Satisfaction lies in the effort, not in the attainment; full effort is full victory.”

Besides, there are health benefits to this effort: Research from Stanford University suggests that a half-hour of complaining every day actually physically damages a person’s brain!

And if you have exhausted all of the above and gotten nowhere…

  1. Turn on the gratitude switch!

Have kids see the light by expressing what they’re thankful for. This will surely take them from feeling the darkness of complaining to seeing the brighter side of what they can be grateful for.