Am I teaching my children to complain?

I exhaled loudly as the stoplight turned a definite red.

“What’s wrong?” my daughter asked.

“That guy was so busy texting he made me miss the light! I wish people would just get off their phones and drive already.”

“Remember what you said about complaining?” she asked.

I chuckled, disarmed by her apt assessment. “Of course. My bad.”

“Guess what?! You get to come up with three things you’re thankful for!” she said, a note of amusement in her voice.

“Three things…” I murmured thoughtfully.

We recently instituted this “three things” rule in our family as a way to curb the complaining. If someone utters a complaint, the complainer has to list three things to be thankful for in order to reset the tone of the conversation.

About a month ago, I recognized that I had a chronic complaining problem.

I unwittingly complained about all sorts of trivial (and not so trivial) issues—Distracted drivers, the weather, distracted drivers, politics, distracted drivers, messy rooms, daylight savings, poor leadership and whatever else (like distracted driving) happened to irritate me at the moment.

When my children complain, it’s usually about something I’ve already learned to endure. As a young child, I used to hate hiking. My parents wouldn’t allow me to dictate what we did or didn’t do as a family, so we hiked whether I enjoyed it or not. I am thankful they forced me to participate because I now take great pleasure in walking, hiking, and exploring. When my own children make rumblings about tired feet or body temperature, I get irritated because I want them to appreciate the sights and the exercise. It’s not as bad as they think it is, so why are they complaining?

Read this: How to prepare your children for the difficult seasons of life

Long car trips—once so boring in my childhood—are quite enjoyable now. We have audiobooks, games, movies in the car, and all sorts of fun things to look at outside. Apparently, colorful hills, long trains, and large mountains are only cool for a limited time, because after four or five hours, complaints start seeping in from the backseats.

“Are we in Arizona yet?”

“Is it time to stop?”

“I’m tired.”

“When’s lunch?”

On a subconscious level, I tend to believe the things I complain about (i.e. texting drivers, politics, immorality) are of greater importance than “little” annoyances (i.e. eating vegetables, waiting in line, walking, etc) and therefore worthy of complaint. And yet, to my children, being cooped up in a car for more than five hours is borderline injustice. They mimic my response to frustration by lodging their complaints.

We can talk about our blessings all we want. We can make well-designed memes on giving thanks. We can give Texas-sized tributes to God’s gifts, but If we do not end the complaining, we negate the benefits of “thanksgiving.” Worse still, our children mimic the behavior, perpetuating the attitude of ingratitude.

Before I correct the grumblings of my children, I should start by curbing my own. If I want my children to live like Christ, I need to model Christ-like behavior.

How do we break this habit of complaining for the sake of our children?

Pray about it. Take your complaint to God first in a spirit of humility. If it isn’t worth the time to pray, it isn’t worth the breath to say.

Do what you can to resolve the issue. Too hot? Find a way to cool down. When we lived in the Mojave desert, there were times when the evaporative cooler couldn’t keep up with the triple-digit temperatures. We would drive to Walmart or Joann’s and walk the aisles to cool down. It didn’t cost anything, and the kids loved the “free aquarium” at Walmart.

Too cold? Put on some layers. Walk around a cozy store. Get up and move around your cubicle at work. Bring in a small space heater. Grab a mug of hot tea.

Messy kids? Work on strategies to enforce cleanliness. Learn where to take a stand and where to let go.

Train the brain. Sometimes fixing a problem is far easier said than done. At times—as in my distracted driver story—there may be no immediate solution. In such cases, it’s time to redirect the mind to better things. When tempted to grumble, stop your mouth from speaking (or your fingers from typing) and think of something worth praising. Give thanks for something God has done and train your brain to squash the “stinkin’ thinkin’.”

Children learn from our example. If there is a problem in your child’s behavior, take a to look in the mirror—you might unwittingly be modeling that behavior. I want my children to see Christ living in me, which means putting certain habits on the chopping block.

“Do all things without complaining and disputing, that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world…” Philippians 2:14-15

If you want to learn biblical principles for raising a family, you will love our online video course taught by Kirk and Chelsea Cameron! 

Elihu Anderson is a surviving California native currently thriving in West Texas. When she isn’t writing for Elihu’s Corner, she is teaching, researching, walking, and book-worming with a cup of chai. Visit Elihu at


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