Q: My 9-year-old son constantly expresses how he feels slighted or cheated out of things. For example, he (not us) is always comparing himself to his 6-year-old brother or 3-year-old sister, talking about the things they get to do or are given by us or others. One example: he’s complained about his brother getting to go to a friend’s house. I counter that he needs to worry only about himself and remind him that he had just done X.
That doesn’t stop him from complaining about unfairness a bit later. I’m wondering if we’ve contributed to the comparison. Our kids have chores, are responsible for certain things around the house, aren’t given much money, etc. I often say to him that fair doesn’t always mean the same thing for everyone, it means that everyone gets what they need (not want!)
He also recently started grumbling about his daily chores and told my mother that he is the “family slave” and has to do everything around the house. Which, of course, is not true at all. Help! We’re all tired of his attitude.
A: Nothing quite frustrates a parent than an ungrateful and complaining child, especially one to whom every action is interpreted as a slight against him. But rest assured this is quite typical, especially for a 9-year-old.
Don’t worry, that doesn’t mean you have to listen to his unfounded and unrealistic complaints! You have options and which one you pick depends on your personality and how much fun you want to have with this problem. (Seriously, if we can’t enjoy our children, even when they’re being pain in the necks, we miss out on a lot of joy in parenting!).
Option 1: Ignore. Stop reminding him of his blessings and engaging him on this subject. When he says things that compare him to others in or outside of the family, don’t comment. If he says he’s been slighted, smile and shrug and walk away–without a word. Let him stew in his own juices on this one.
Option 2: The Chair of Complaining. When he starts to complain, hold up your hand, grab a kitchen timer, and settle yourself in the chair of complaining (really, any comfortable chair). Set the timer for a minute or two, then tell him, “You’ve got two minutes to tell me your sob story” or something like that. Then listen, nod, commiserate with him as he tells his tale of woe. When the timer goes off, put your hand on his shoulder and say, “Well, sounds like you’ve had a tough time. Buck up, it’ll get better.” Then walk away, leaving behind a very bewildered boy who probably expected you to DO something about his problem.
Option 3: Designate a “Complaining” Room. Make an unused room in the house, like a powder room or guest room, into his own special complaining room. Show him the room when he hasn’t been complaining or comparing and tell him when he feels like the world has done him wrong and wants to say something about it, he needs to go here to do it. You’ll remind him if he forgets. Then simply direct him to go to the complaining room when he starts in.
All of these options have one thing in common: It moves the complaining monkey on your son’s shoulders. He’s more than capable of figuring out how to stop–with a nice push from Mom and Dad.