How to Deal With a Child Who Constantly Complains

Teach your child complaining is a bad habit.

Anna Pekunova / Moment / Getty Images

“It’s too hot.” “I don’t want to go to Grandma’s house.” “These peas are gross.” Listening to constant complaints from your child will wear on your patience.

Complaining isn't good for your child either. If they are always focused on the negative, they will be at a higher risk of mental health problems, like depression and anxiety. They will also be more likely to encounter social problems. Their peers won't want to spend time with a kid who constantly complains.

If your child complains about everything or whines regularly, help them learn to be more positive. If you don't curb the negativity and unhealthy social habits while they are young, they may grow up to become an adult who constantly complains.

Acknowledge Your Child’s Emotions

Although you might be tempted to say something your parents probably told you, like, “Quit crying or I’ll give you something to cry about," minimizing your child's feelings isn't helpful. Instead, briefly acknowledge your child’s distress and then move on. Say something such as, “I know you’re uncomfortable right now because we’ve been in the car for a long time, but we still have another hour to go.”

Sometimes kids complain because they want you to know that they’re dealing with some difficult feelings or some physical discomfort. Validating your child's discomfort may be enough to settle them down.

Show a little empathy and make it clear that dealing with discomfort is part of life. If your child's behavior requires further intervention, discipline the behavior, not the emotion. Say something like, "It's OK to feel frustrated, but it's not OK to throw things."

If there are further protests or your child begins whining, ignore it. Make it clear that you aren’t going to pay attention to negative attempts to get attention.

Encourage Problem-Solving

If your child is complaining to you about something, encourage them to solve the problem. If they say, “I’m hot,” while they are playing outside, ask, “What do you think you should do about that?” If they need help thinking of options, remind them that they could sit in the shade, or ask for help getting a cold drink.

Teaching your child problem-solving skills can help them see that coming to you and complaining isn’t likely to fix the problem. But they can ask for help solving the problem or they can figure out how to solve the problem on their own if it’s age appropriate to do so.

When kids improve upon their problem-solving skills, they will be less likely to complain. Instead, they'll take action that improves their situation.

Be cautious about rescuing your child when they are struggling with frustration or when they are having a hard time. If you jump in and solve every problem for them, they may develop a sense of learned helplessness where they assume other people have to solve problems on their behalf.

Point Out the Positive

If your child is always quick to point out the negative in any situation, point out the positive. This can help your child develop a more balanced view of the world instead of only seeing the bad.

If they say, "I hate that we had to leave the park early because it rained," you might respond by saying, "That can be frustrating when that happens. But I'm happy we got to go to the park and play for a while before the rain started."

Help Them Find Agency

Don't let your child stay stuck in a victim mentality. If they think they are constantly a victim of bad circumstances and mean people, they won't take any action to fix the situation.

Help them focus on the things they can control. If they are complaining that they can't ride their bike because it's raining, talk about the indoor activities they could do to have fun. Say something like, "I know you're disappointed you can't ride your bike. What are some fun indoor things you could do instead?"

When to Seek Professional Help

Sometimes, an overly negative attitude can signal an underlying mental health issue. Children with depression, for example, often dwell on the negative and children with anxiety often imagine worst-case scenarios. If you suspect your child’s constant complaining could be a sign of something more serious, speak with your child’s pediatrician.

4 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. American Academy of Pediatrics. What’s the best way to discipline my child?.

  2. Hoyt LT, Chase-Lansdale PL, Mcdade TW, Adam EK. Positive youth, healthy adults: Does positive well-being in adolescence predict better perceived health and fewer risky health behaviors in young adulthood?. J Adolesc Health. 2012;50(1):66-73. doi:10.1016/j.jadohealth.2011.05.002

  3. Sapolsky RM. Importance of a sense of control and the physiological benefits of leadership. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA. 2012;109(44):17730-1.  doi:10.1073/pnas.1215502109

  4. US National Institutes of Health. Children and mental health.

Additional Reading
  • Morin A. 13 Things Mentally Strong Parents Don't Do: Raising Self-Assured Children and Training Their Brains for a Life of Happiness, Meaning, and Success. William Morrow; 2017.

  • Webster-Stratton C. The Incredible Years: Parents, Teachers, and Childrens Training Series: Program Content, Methods, Research and Dissemination 1980-2011. Incredible Years; 2011.

By Amy Morin, LCSW
Amy Morin, LCSW, is the Editor-in-Chief of Verywell Mind. She's also a psychotherapist, an international bestselling author of books on mental strength and host of The Verywell Mind Podcast. She delivered one of the most popular TEDx talks of all time.