March 12, 2009

Have a Family Complaint Break… Take Time to Complain!


by Nicole MacKenzie

Normally, we learn to think of complaining as ‘bad’ or at best, a pointless waste of time. Nobody really enjoys hearing others whine and complain. It’s not much fun to be around complainers, either kids or adults. If this is left to grow in kids, it can develop into a deep unconscious pattern. And it’s safe to say that habitual complaining is NOT high on the list of character traits that parents try to teach their kids! In fact, in my house, we even have a rule, “No complaining” and consequences that apply when it’s broken.

So why on earth would I now suggest that you take some time TO complain?! Simply because sometimes taking a “complaint break” is the perfect antidote that can quickly “break” a dissatisfied unhappy mood.

Let’s start with a short story to illustrate…

One time when he was small, my son Ian and I were taking a long hike up a mountain in Switzerland. We agreed upon the ground rules in advance. We both knew it would be a long hot hike, but there was to be no complaining from either of us. We also agreed that if there was no complaining, then as our “reward” when we reached the lodge at the top, we’d sit and order a nice cold drink and an ice cream.

We walked and walked for nearly two hours. It was hotter than I had expected and the hike seemed much longer and the road much steeper than I remembered. My feet were getting quite tired and my shoes pinched my toes. I could sense that Ian was getting quite tired too. But he was a trooper and did not complain, only asking, “How much longer?”
[ad#ad-2] I told him it was only a few more turns in the trail since that’s what I remembered. But then we went those turns, then a few more turns, a few more, and on and on… and still we were not there! I could feel the mood getting more and more tense. Neither of us was enjoying ourselves one bit. We were both trying hard to suppress the whining and complaints that were boiling away in our minds. Since we had agreed to no complaints, we were both determined, by sheer will power, NOT to complain, no matter what!

Finally I stopped and said to Ian, “I don’t know about you but I need a complaint break! I know we both agreed to not complain, but I really need to. How about we agree to take the next ten minutes and complain as much as we want?” Ian readily agreed.

So on we marched up the hill… But this time, I whined loudly, “My feet hurt! I’m TIIIRRRED!!” Ian chimed in, “I’m thirsty! This is the worst walk ever! It’s WAAAY TOOOO far!” We loudly and enthusiastically voiced every complaint and whiny thought that we had been holding in. It soon became almost a game, each one of us trying to ‘out-complain’ the other. Then an odd thing happened… we both got rather quiet as we continued to trudge along.

I looked at my watch. The 10 minutes wasn’t even up yet. I waited a little bit longer and then asked Ian, “You done?” “Yeah,” he said, “I can’t think of anything else.” “Yeah, me too,” I said, “I’m done.” We smiled at each other and continued up the hill, our “complaint break” over.

However, now the mood had shifted dramatically. I noticed that the unvoiced complaints that had been running rampant in my mind were now completely gone. We both chatted and laughed happily for the rest of the walk. And what’s more, when we got to the lodge, we discovered it was closed!! But instead of being something to complain about, we both burst out laughing! It seemed absurdly funny that we had walked all that way only to find it closed!

Now let’s look at how you can use this too…

We all make plans and set out to do things, but sometimes everything just seems to go wrong. It can be frustrating and annoying when life does not go as you wish. The traffic is backed up so you’re late, it’s pouring rain on family reunion day, you dribble onto your shirt front on your way to an important meeting, the babysitter cancels at the last minute, dinner is burned, the bathtub overflows… there are thousands of possible daily annoyances to contend with. And although normally they roll right off, sometimes they just seem to add up to a breaking point. And while I’ve just listed examples of adult frustrations here, it’s pretty easy to see that this applies to kids as well. They too have their share of daily things that just don’t go “right”.

At this point, trying to suppress, control and resist the complaining thoughts can have the opposite effect… it increases them! There is even a saying that, “What you resist, persists!” Taking a complaint break will often clear the air and lighten the mood. Once all the complaining thoughts are actually expressed verbally, they tend to dissipate.

However, there are some important ground rules for an effective complaint break…

– There must be a conscious decision to do it. Everyone participating in the complaining session knows it’s special and not the norm.

– A specific, short time period must be agreed upon. Ten minutes is usually more than enough. You’ll be amazed how quickly you run out of complaints!

– No personal attacks or “make-wrong’s” of another family member are allowed. It’s a general complaint session, not a fault-finding mission. Other than that, everybody’s complaint is OK. They can complain about whatever they want to.

– Complaints should be loud and enthusiastic. Everyone should complain with gusto!

– Whining is good too. You can exaggerate here and you may find yourself having fun with it! Kids often find it totally hilarious to hear their parents using their annoying whiny voice.

– You can take turns complaining and have everyone else ‘agree’ and encourage the complainer. Like, “Yeah, that’s right! What else?” Or you can have just a more free flowing complaint session where everyone chimes in as needed.

– Some families actually schedule a complaining time. Like Wednesday night at 8pm is complaining time. You can give this method a try and if it works for you, keep it. Or you can do it like we do in our family: just notice when there seems to be a particular need for a complaint session and have an impromptu one.

If the need arises, give this a try in your family. I think you’ll be surprised by how it starts out rather seriously but soon degrades into a general family laugh session!

Nicole Mackenzie’s simple, yet proven Responsive Parenting Method shows parents how to raise more responsible and happier kids using non-judgmental awareness, curiosity and discipline without punishment – plus have fun in the process! Nicole is an author and mother of 6 children. She has been a facilitator, speaker, coach and trainer for 16 years

Creative Commons License photo credit: David Boyle

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