How to Deal with a Child Who Constantly Complains

Teach your child that complaining is a bad habit.
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“It’s too hot.” “I don’t want to go to Grandma’s house.” “This bug bite itches.” Listening to constant complaints from your child will wear on your patience.

And, complaining isn't good for your child. If he's always focused on the negative, he'll be at a higher risk of mental health problems as well as social problems.

If your child complains a lot, or if he whines regularly, it’s important to address this behavior.

If you don’t curb it while he’s young, he may grow up to become an adult who constantly complains. Here are some strategies to help you address the negativity:

1. Acknowledge Your Child’s Emotions

The last thing you want to do is minimize how your child feels by saying something like, “Quit crying or I’ll give you something to cry about.” That’s just not helpful.

Instead, find ways to briefly acknowledge your child’s distress and then move on. If your child's behavior requires further intervention, discipline the behavior, not the emotion.

Sometimes kids complain because they want you to know that they’re dealing with some difficult feelings or some physical discomfort. Simply acknowledging that you hear them can sometimes be enough to settle them down for a bit. 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.”

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

2. Encourage Problem-Solving

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

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

When kids improve upon their problem-solving skills, they may be less likely to complain. And if you don’t jump in to solve every problem for them, you won’t create a sense of learned helplessness.

3. Point Out the Positive

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

If your child complains that he can’t ride his bike because it’s raining, remind him of the fun indoor activities he can do instead. By pointing out the positive, you may be able to remind him that almost every situation has a bright side.

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 or victim mentality could be a sign of something more serious, speak with your child’s pediatrician.