Written by Kari Patterson of Sacred Mundane
I can tell we’ve gotten off course when, as I tell my kids to do something, I am already inwardly preparing for their protest. I so wish it didn’t happen, but I have a hunch we all face this at times, that inner irritation that comes from just a few too many complaints.
It usually starts with a subtle, not-quite-right attitude, a less-than-cheerful obedience, a tone of voice that leaves much to be desired. It’s usually not outright defiance, but we know too well that a little bit of complaining, compounded day after day after day, can wear the best of us down to a weary nub. Or, conversely, rile us up and make us sharp, sarcastic, harsh.
Either way, it can leave us wondering, “What happened to our joy?!”
I’d like to share a few thoughts in this place as a way to simply begin the conversation on this topic. Truthfully, I’m tackling it because I’d love to hear your wisdom on how you maintain a complaint-free home. Let’s begin here:
1. Recognize its true threat to you and your kids.
Okay, tell the truth: Have you ever seen a child behave deplorably and then notice the parent simply shrug his or her shoulders? We’ve likely done it ourselves. Sometimes we grow so calloused to our kids’ complaining that we think it’s okay. It’s not. Complaining kills creativity, it dampens your motivation, steals your joy.
It doesn’t just harm you when your kids complain, it harms them.
When we allow complaining to be the culture of our home, we allow our kids to establish habits that will hinder them for the rest of their lives. No one wants to teach, employ, befriend, or marry a chronic complainer. The first step to change is recognizing the true threat that complaining really is. (This is even more important than math!)
2. Identify complaining in your own life first.
It’s easy to harp on the kids, but the truth is, complaining is often present in my own life as well. Do I inwardly grumble about my daily duties, my spouse, the state of our home?
One day I was looking in my daughter’s closet and noticed small toys strewn everywhere. I sighed dramatically, “Why are there all these toys everywhere???” She calmly responded, “Instead of complaining about it can you just ask me to pick them up?”
Touché! My 7-year-old was right. I can complain about my kids’ behavior, or I can calmly and respectfully do something about it. Before I can deal with their complaining I need to tackle my own.
3. Teach healthy methods for making an appeal.
Sometimes, it is tough to be a kid. Someone else is making all your decisions, telling you to stop this and do that, finish this, hurry up, slow down, sit down, stand up, speak up, be quiet.
I get it. Many kids might instinctively understand the difference between complaining and asking an honest question, but some just do not.
My son most certainly does not. He has a hard time understanding tone of voice, facial expressions, and communicative subtleties. Often he thinks he’s asking an honest question but it comes off as complaining and rude.
So we need to give our kids clear directions for how to make an appeal. This will vary for every family, but it is helpful to give them exactly the words they need in order to communicate their questions, frustrations, or needs in a way that still communicates respect and humility.
Maybe flashcards are even in order! Again, if we drill math facts we might as well drill respectful communication as well. This will set our kids up for success for years to come.
4. Pursue thankfulness with reckless abandon.
It is impossible to be thankful and complain at the same time. As we all know, the most effective way to ditch a bad habit isn’t to focus on the bad habit, it’s to replace that habit with something greater. Never is this more true than with grumbling and gratitude.
Actively pursuing thanksgiving so fills our life with gratitude that it crowds out complaining along the way.
It’s the perfect time to do this, yes?
This week, in honor of Thanksgiving and in honor of the fact that we all need a big fat dose of gratitude in our hearts, let’s make thankfulness what we pursue wholeheartedly.
More than the perfect turkey and stuffing or even pumpkin pie (yum!), let’s lead our children’s hearts back to humble gratitude, to a habit of thanks, to contentment and kindness.
It’s sure to take time and effort, but we’ll be so thankful we did.
Your turn: How do you curb complaining and cultivate gratitude instead?