Complaining. It’s in our nature, and who’s to blame us? Most of us deal with a lot of stress and, often times, citing complaints helps us process that stress before we’re able to move on with a more positive mindset. The ability to rationally move on from stress, however, is much trickier for children. As social beings, they learn and model behaviors of those they spend most of their time with (e.g., the adults in their lives).
So, when they see their parents complaining, it’s no surprise they would pick up similar habits during their own periods of stress; however, when a child gets in this negative mindset, it takes a much longer time to just let it go and move on (which can explain excessive bouts of whining, of “I don’t want to do that anymore,” and sometimes temper meltdowns). Luckily, just as parents can teach their children to focus on the negative, they are equally equipped to teach them to focus on the positive:
Practice complimenting. For some, this can come much more organically than others, but by adopting a habit of complimenting we are better able to acknowledge the positive. Encourage complimenting at home, beginning with yourself as a model. For example, provide each member of the household with a genuine, different compliment each day. To embolden your child to do the same, acknowledge how it makes you feel when they give you a compliment (e.g., “Thank you for saying that. That makes me feel good.”)
When I led social skills groups, one of my favorite activities for teaching compliments was called “Compliment Tag.” One person, the tagger, would try tagging others as you would in a regular game of tag, but the other players could avoid being tagged by giving a genuine compliment before being touched!
Create a “Complaint Jar.” As mentioned, it’s natural for us to cite complaints as a way of processing stress before moving on, so it shouldn’t be altogether discouraged. What’s important is that we not spend so much time dwelling on it that we can’t move on. At home, you can create a container where, during stressful events, any member of the family has an option to write it down on a piece of paper [anonymously] and drop it in. You could either leave it at that or, every few weeks, get the household together to read through some of the complaints and either discuss how that person was able to move on or find the humor in how what now seems trivial was once so problematic.
Tell Problem-Solving Stories. Sometimes, it can just be downright hard to see the positive in a negative situation, especially right in the midst of it. It takes time and experience to identify positive elements and fix a tough situation. Therefore, it can be helpful to prepare your child for possible situations by having some solutions handy. Think back to a time where your child may have been stuck, and present it to them as a story where you both have to help the character find the good in the bad. For example, “There once was a boy who lost his favorite jacket at school, and became so upset. How can we finish the story to help him feel better?” You can get creative, but make sure to tie some realistic solutions in here and there.
Tune in to Your Own Language. Again, children are social creatures, and learn by modeling others. It’s okay for you to vent from time to time, even in the presence of your child. But, rather than citing a complaint aloud and leaving it at that, see if you can also verbalize a positive or solution-focused twist to it. For example, “I am upset that we’re stuck in traffic, but glad it means we can spend more time together.”