How to stop your children from complaining once and for all
If you’ve noticed one of these communication mistakes in your own daily interactions, as I sometimes notice in myself, don’t become discouraged. The first step of changing behavior is recognizing there is something to change. Choose one behavior to work on first. Put reminders up around the house, give yourself rewards when you do succeed, and have your children kindly remind you when you didn’t respond appropriately in a particular situation. Start somewhere. Children are very understanding and forgiving and appreciate when their parents are working to improve their behavior alongside them.
Don’t give in
Just like a toaster is a tool to make bread warm and crispy, complaining is a tool kids use to get what they want. If children can get out of their responsibilities by complaining or if parents eventually change their answer after having been asked a dozen times, then the child learns that complaining is an effective tool and they will continue using it. This is why not giving in is so important. If not giving in is a new tactic for you, you may find that your child tries even harder before they abandon the complaining tool. Going back to the toaster idea, if you have had your toaster for many years and it’s always made toast when you put a piece of bread in and push down the lever, and one morning it doesn’t work you don’t just take out the piece of bread out and throw the toaster in the garbage. You may unplug the toaster and plug it back in, switch the buttons, try using the lever several more times, until you decide it doesn’t work. Children will do the same if their behavioral tool has worked in the past, even if you have warned them that you are going to respond differently. They may push harder or complain for a longer period of time trying to get the tool to work, until they realize that you’re not going to give in.
Remind your child of the instruction or original answer
Instead of arguing with your child or telling them to stop complaining, gently remind them what they are expected to do or explain that they have already asked the question and received an answer and you are no longer going to talk about it. Then ignore the complaining. Nobody likes to talk with no response so they will eventually stop. Then, when you notice they have stopped complaining, immediately give them positive attention and praise so they learn that not complaining gives them your attention more than complaining does.
Teach how to follow instructions or accept a “no” answer
Since we know complaining has two forms, you can teach your children how to behave in the appropriate way instead of of complaining. If your child is not following instructions explain, “I know you don’t want to _________, but when I give you an instruction I need you say ‘Okay’. Go ________immediately, and then come tell me when it’s finished.” If your child has been told “No” but continues to ask for the privilege explain, “I understand that you really want to ________, but I already told you ‘No”. So what you need to do is say ‘Okay’, not ask again, and do something else to distract yourself.” When your child has clear steps to follow, then it’s easy to refer to the steps and stop talking about the issue.
Give consequences, if needed
If your child has learned how to follow instructions or accept a “no” answer, you have reminded her of the expectations and then ignored the complaining, and she is still choosing to complain, then it’s time to give a consequence.
Unless it’s an extreme behavior that has to be addressed immediately, teaching should always come before applying consequences. However, if they have been clearly taught what to do and they aren’t responding appropriately, the instruction may need to be reinforced with negative consequences. On the other hand, if not complaining is a behavior they are working on and you notice that they complain for a shorter period of time or not at all, then make sure to acknowledge the good behavior and reward them for improving. Rewards reinforce better than negative consequences.