Replace Your Children's Whining with Gratitude


Does your family have a whiner? Janel Breitenstein offers some terrific tips for helping your child transition from being a little too whiny to becoming a little more grateful.

One of my children, who is five years old, has managed to bring whining to an art form. We could wander into Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory that happens to have a Wii, a Chuck E. Cheese, his friends, and his grandparents inside, but my son would have no problem finding something that was not quite up to his expectations.

Another mom asked me recently if we had a whining and ingratitude issue in our family like she does in hers. Uh, definitely. But to tell the truth, my second-born isn’t the only one in our family who has a problem with ungratefulness and complaining. Unfortunately, I have to wonder how much of it he’s caught from his mother. It’s not something you’d see unless maybe you lived with me. This is more of an x-ray issue. You’d see my problem if you saw my heart.

Recently I read a book titled, One Thousand Gifts, by Ann Voskamp. A mother of six, Ann found herself transformed by a challenge to list 1,000 things for which she’s thankful. So I pulled out a spiral notebook and got started writing my own list.

Here’s what I didn’t anticipate: Combing the day for things I’m thankful for is replacing my old way of seeing the world. It turns my eyes from all the things that aren’t going my way—or even from the discouragement of legitimate problems—and onto the gifts God keeps piling up, just dumping them in stacks and stacks into my life. In essence, it helps me choose joy.

Refusing to complain is a good discipline for my mouth. But to transform my heart, God actually replaced my complaining by helping me see His goodness and worship Him for it.

As I thought about cultivating the ground for the gratitude God wants to grow in my kids’ hearts, I was grateful for some of Ann’s suggestions. As part of your daily routine, she suggests, cover a window one sticky note at a time with things for which your kids are thankful. We covered a huge picture in the kitchen; the non-writers got help or drew pictures.

Another of Ann’s suggestions was to help children start thankfulness journals of their own. We started one at the beginning of the new school year. I have talked my seven-year-old down from his initial well-intentioned goal of one billion items, and he is now going for 100 items for which he’s grateful.

On that note, here are a few other ideas to help replace whining with thankfulness

  • When your child begins the whining wind-up, talk about his or her heart: “Right now, I think you’re being tempted to focus on what you want. I need you to take your focus off your circumstances and desires. I want you to choose to focus on how big God is and the blessings He’s giving you right now, this instant. Can you stop and think of three good things He’s giving you right now? Then I’ll hear what you have to say in a calm voice to me.”
  • Talk out loud and frequently about things for which you’re thankful—big and small.
  • Be consistent with a zero-tolerance policy on whining. Make the consequences known, and follow through swiftly when your child complains.
  • Let your kids see you thanking waitresses, cleaning staff, Sunday school teachers, and "unseen" helpers. Prompt them quietly to thank people who serve them. Make thank-you notes a normal project in your home, and include people like pastors and your children's ministry leaders.
  • Do not, I repeat, do not give your child anything they ask for in a whining voice. Author Ginger Plowman allows her children to come back two minutes after whining and offer the request again, the polite way.
  • I follow a tip I learned from my aunt: I try not to pick up my children until they quit whining (which is different from crying). Otherwise, I might be teaching them that they can get picked up if they whine. Instead, this reinforces self-control and self-soothing.
  • When you’re driving, set a thankfulness challenge. See if together you can think of 50 things to be thankful for before you get to swimming lessons or 25 things before you get to the library.
  • Expose your kids to the realities of life in other areas of the world. Sites like www.compassion.com are great for giving kids a window outside of the wealthy bubble of our culture. You can also request their free magazine for kids and receive their prayer calendar every month.
  • Read some books together on thankfulness, like Barbara Rainey’s Growing Together in Gratitude. Talk specifically with your kids about how this relates to whining and complaining. Read picture books that talk about kids dealing with poverty and how we can respond with generosity. Pray for the real kids living in those realities, and thank God for the comforts you enjoy.
  • Memorize some Scriptures together about gratitude. (Small rewards may help). Some to start with: Psalm 16:5–11, Psalm 100, and 1 Thessalonians 5:16–18.

Combing the day for things you’re thankful for can replace your old way of seeing the world.

Written by Janel Breitenstein

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