Last week, in response to a post I wrote about raising helpful children, a commentor wrote to me asking “where did I go wrong?” She mentions that her children have chores, but complain about them every day. Of course, I can’t say what others should do with their children, but I can tell you that when we were experiencing similar problems with our children, the Godly advice of some older moms really went a long way in helping us to overcome these issues. This is the advice I would like to share with you today, as well as some of our own experiences that worked for us in this area.
Raising children who don’t complain is, I believe, a multi-faceted subject. For instance, a child who grows up seeing work as drudgery will naturally resent it, as opposed to a child who grows up seeing work as something rewarding. I also believe that children will naturally complain more if they are taught that they should be treated “fairly.” When we allow our children to strive for equality in all things, and encourage their behavior by trying to be ‘fair,’ we cultivate in them a spirit of discontentment and covetousness (1).
So what are we modeling, as parents? Do we complain about our chores? Are we angry when someone treats us unfairly? Do we try to rush through our housework as quickly as possible so that we can go and do something else? Do we try to treat our children “fairly?” I admit that I’m often guilty of rushing through housework, and complaining about certain tasks. I am often guilty of being upset when I feel I’ve been treated unfairly by others. These attitudes will directly effect the way my children view work, and will ultimately go a long way in determining whether they will complain (either out loud, or in their hearts) about the responsibilities they are given.
As parents, we must remember that we are the only Bible our young children are currently reading. Our behavior speaks scripture into their lives. What we do, they will learn to do. The things we do not discipline them for will be seen as acceptable, and our attitudes will ultimately become their attitudes. Philippians 2:14 tells us to “do all things without grumbling or complaining.” Understanding that complaining is not just irritating or upsetting, but is actually sinful, will help us go a long way in how we address it.
In our home, complaining is no more allowed than lying or cursing. Each and every time a child complains, the behavior is dealt with immediately and we try to meet every undesirable behavior with an undesirable consequence. For instance, if a child is complaining about cleaning their room, they will be required to clean their brother’s room as well. If a child is complaining about getting the smallest cookie, that cookie will be taken away and given to someone else. If a child is complaining about the time it takes to complete a task because they are in a rush to go and play, they will not only complete the task, but will not be allowed to play afterward. Consequences can be as creative as your imagination will allow. The important thing is this: make every negative behavior counter productive. Children are smart. If you take away from them the very thing they are seeking to gain by their complaining, they will soon learn that it is not in their best interest to complain.
Another thing to remember is that complaining is an issue of the heart. Simply because a child may not say anything to express his complaint does not mean his heart is not full of resentment. We try to always discipline the emotion as well as the action. When our children are told to clean up their rooms, they may go straight to work without ever saying a word, but if the expression on their face speaks of resentment, it is dealt with.
1 Timothy 5:18 tells us “in everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” When our children are outwardly complaining or inwardly resentful, they are stepping outside of God’s will. In the past (and I admit that we’ve been somewhat lax about this lately!) we asked our children to express thankfulness for the issue of their complaints. For instance, if our daughter was complaining about making the beds, we’d remind her of how blessed she is to have a bed and the opportunity to take care of her possessions and make her room beautiful. If our daughter was complaining about her dinner, we would ask her to thank God that she has enough to eat each day. A word of caution about this – an expression of thankfulness should NOT be a punishment! If you sense that your child is resentful of having to clean up her room, deal with the attitude before you ask her to pray. Help your child to understand that God wants her to have a thankful heart, and explain that you are helping her to develop it. Your child may not feel much like thanking God for her bed, but thankfulness is sometimes an act of the will and not of the emotion.
Lastly, and most importantly, when dealing with issues of the heart such as complaining, it is of the utmost importance that we are well connected with our children. Children who feel that they are truly loved by their parents want to do their best for them. A child who feels valued, appreciated, and needed by Mom and Dad is a child who wants to please. Children who are constantly rebelling against their parents are usually children who do not feel secure. In this situation, Mom becomes the adversary rather than the ally. If you are sensing this type of contention between you and your children, make sure you are working on your relationship with them. Take them fishing, take them to the park, cuddle with them, spend time with them, give them a project (to do with you.) Do whatever it takes to tie strings with your child because in the end, discipline without connection will only breed resentment. On the other hand, having a good connection with our children will take them further than any training or disciplinary method we employ.
“For love covers a multitude of sins.”
Are there any other Mom’s reading this who have overcome similar issues? If so, I’d really appreciate your input. I know there is more that can be said on this subject, and “wisdom comes from many counselors.” Thanks!
*One last thought… In dealing with complaining, it’s important to pay attention to what our children are complaining about. Jon and I have often found that our children’s complaints are legitimate, and they just need to be reminded of a proper way to address their concerns (without complaining.) For instance, our child might be complaining because we’ve given her too much to do… it’s important that we give her the opportunity to tell us that, and adjust our request accordingly! She might be complaining because she’s tired, and legitimately needs to rest. It is always our desire to root out the heart of the complaint and work together to find a solution.
1.) More is written on this in my article “Fair is Where They Sell Pigs”
Helping Hands and Tying Heartstrings … raising helpful children
Helping Hands and Willing Hearts… more on raising helpful children
“Fair” is Where They Sill Pigs … why we don’t treat our children “fairly”
Works for Me Wednesday … tips from other bloggers