Model positive communication
Adult-child and adult-teen communication can be tricky, especially if adults focus on the negative tone rather than the message behind. it. But adults can break this cycle.
The key is to listen calmly. Avoid being dismissive, raising your voice, or labelling children as “whingers”.
Give your full attention, nod to show you are listening and check you understand their concerns and opinions (even if you don’t agree).
Listening in this way helps children feel valued, eventually reducing grumbles.
Here’s how you can respond
Having listened – and heard – try to formulate a reasonable response, prompting the child to find a potential solution. This is showing your child how to communicate constructively.
For example, a child might say, “I’m alwaaaaays emptying the bins”. This might mean, “I don’t think the jobs are fairly distributed”, or “I’m getting bored doing the same job”. So adults could ask, “How can the jobs be allocated in a fairer way?” This supports independence and problem solving.
A child might also say, “It took me ages to clean that up”. This might mean, “I want to be thanked and acknowledged”. So you might respond by saying how much better the area looks and thank them for their time and effort.
Or you might hear, “Having those chairs in the hallway is dumb”. This might actually mean “I’ve got some ideas about how we organise our house”.
Parents could say they are interested in alternative ideas, but only if they are expressed with respect. Once they speak politely, if a small change is reasonable, you could ask the child to help adjust the space using a mix of both of your ideas (teaching teamwork). This helps them learn they have a right to be heard, but it is their responsibility to speak politely.
Parents could also say something like, “It’s tricky, but using kind words means people are more likely to listen and respond to you”.
Times and places
It’s not possible for adults to respond reasonably to every random grumble. We can teach children and teenagers there are times and places to raise complaints and concerns.
For example, your child might say, “We never get enough TV before dinner” right as you are taking the roast out of the oven. In response, you could say, “I can see this issue is really important to you” (acknowledging their concerns). You could add, “It’s late, so let’s chat about this for ten minutes over breakfast tomorrow” (making a time and setting limits).
Grumbling is a fact of life with children. But shutting down grumbles without addressing the underlying cause is likely to provoke more grumbles, and do little to teach children about useful communication.
However hard it may be for a tired, harassed parent, taking the time to deal with complaints and whinges constructively can be beneficial in the long run.