Momfessional: How I Deal With Complaining

I love my daughter, I really do, but the constant whining and complaining drives me crazy.  Like certifiable.  If your children are anything like mine, then the minute they wake the whining and complaining begins.  It's filled with "Mommy, I want iPad time," followed by "I don't want to wear shoes," and finishes with the final dramatic throwing of the body on the floor screaming "It's not fair!"

Now, I know that are times when our kids just need to be told what to do; however, there is also a direct link between the amount of ordering, directing, or correcting we do and the amount of misbehavior that results. From toddlers to teens, children are hard-wired with a need for independence. (Ergo the ego-centric terrible two and threenagers). Thus, our well-intentioned nagging reminders and orders elicit natural pushback as our kiddos attempt to retain autonomy. The result is that lovely power struggle between us and them.

I realized that it was either become a wine-addict, slump deeper into depression, or take control.  I opted for a little less wine and taking control.  This how is how I have started to eliminate complaining and work towards cooperation.

1) The “When-Then” Routine.   This is great for tasks that occur daily or weekly. the key is to stick to them. E knows that when her when her dinner is done, then she can have Bunny Treats or when he toys are picked up, then she can enjoy 15 minutes of iPad time.   I repeat if/then statement several times and it helps her understand.  It saves you from the daily reminder. This is still a work in progress, but her I can say E, when you finish dinner, then what can you have, and she repeats.

2) Ask, Don’t Tell. This has been the biggest game changer for us.  I simply change my phraseology by asking questions instead of giving directions. For example, replace “get your shoes on or we will be late” with “what shoes do you want to wear today?” Making the switch to a question prompts her to think through her answer, and it also shows that I trust in her to have taken the action on her own. If she hasn’t actually started yet, it also gives her the opportunity to  develop a plan and also is a subtle reminder that its almost time to leave. Regardless of her response, I get the peace of mind that she is doing I need her to do without robbing her of her independence. (and there has been less yelling).

3) Invite cooperation.  Instead of directing, reminding, or correcting or rather than simply telling E what to  do - which is about as productive as asking her to do something – I try to include her in the decision process by inviting cooperation. I have used “E, mommy is taking longer to get ready, it would be a big help if you could put your plate in the sink and pick a jacket.”  While this strategy didn't lead to instant cooperation,  she soon began responding positively once I changed from commands to language that supports her need for autonomy.

4) Decide What YOU Will Do if your child doesn’t complete a chore or task. This one is hard, but it acknowledges that we can’t force  our kids to do something, but that we can control how we respond to their action or lack thereof.  For toddlers this a bit harder, but I started small.  E takes her lovie to school everyday for nap time.  So, after several times of me running back home for it, I employed a rule: If you do not have lovie when we get in the car, then she doesn't come to school with you that day.  Mommy is not going back for her.  For older kids, perhaps tell them that you will do laundry on Mondays. If their clothes aren’t in the hamper, they will have to either wash the clothes themselves or wait for the next laundry day. If Monday comes and your kids smelly gym clothes are in their backpack instead of the hamper, you can bet that once they discover their mistake just before gym glass, they’ll get it right next time.

5) Smile more!  As you incorporate these techniques, I adhere to the mantra fake it til you make it!  Even if you have to fake it, smiling changes communication completely. Smiling while talking will allows you to use a more calm tone of voice and decreases the likelihood your statement will be received as a command. This was so hard for me.  I literally put smiley face things everywhere to remind me. And man you would be amazed at how much better things have gone since I have smiled more with E. I also attribute getting my depression under control to help on this one.  When I was feeling better, I was able to smile more and stay clam during stressful toddler tantrums.

For parents, the hardest thing is letting go of the power struggle.  It just seemed counter-intuitive to me, but ya'll it worked.  I gave in to E's desire to be independent and have some control, I just limited it by giving her boundaries.  Not every day is all sunshine and roses, but our tantrums and all our battles are now fewer and far between.

What methods have you employed with you own kids? I am always up for advice.