I have seen a rise in grumbling, complaining, arguing (with each other and with us) from our older boys, ages 4 and 6. I submitted a separate question about the conflict between the boys, but here I would like to ask more specifically about the grumbling, complaining and arguing they do with us as parents.
I have found myself in particular being pulled down to their level and struggling to maintain composure. We don't give in to their arguing (they don't get what they are asking for), but I do think they get some positive reinforcement from our frustration and irritation.
I would love some direction on how we could work to nip these behaviors in the bud instead of letting them grow to the point of parental frustration.
If the grumbling and complaining are being done quietly (under the breath), try ignoring it; give it no attention at all. Often children grumble and complain to see if they can get a rise out of their parent(s). When the attempts consistently fail, the grumbling and complaining may dissipate on their own.
If ignoring is not working and the complaining/grumbling have become more overt, John's Ticket System is a good next step. The Ticket System is outlined in his book, The Well-Behaved Child (p.69). The Ticket System has been used effectively by many parents, with consistency being the key to success. It is important to thoroughly familiarize yourself with the process before discussing it with your sons. Complaining and grumbling can be target behaviors, however, you need to be specific as to what constitutes the behaviors (i.e. "I don't want to"; "I hate this"; "Why do I have to?", etc...). When a complaint occurs, before taking a ticket say to your son, "You are losing a ticket because saying ________________ is complaining/grumbling."
John's books offer a number of strategies in addition to the Ticket System. It may be that setting aside an area specifically for grumbling and complaining will do the trick. Tell your sons that if they feel a need to grumble they can go the grumbling area (bathroom, laundry room, special isolated corner, etc.). They may grumble in that area all they want but when they come out, there is to be no more grumbling or complaining. If it starts up again, back they go. The key is that you are not around to listen to it. If there is no one to impress, the complaining may lose its luster!
As far as arguing with you (parents), recognize that it takes two to argue. If you are not responding to your child, then there is no argument. When one of your little ones tries to start an argument, inform him that you have no more to say, then walk off and immediately become engaged in something else. Allowing yourself to be "pulled down to their level" (your words), puts the onus for solving the problem on you. We are talking about two young children who are effectively causing the adult(s) in the family to "struggle to maintain composure"; not a good thing.
I strongly suggest reflecting on the real reason you are allowing a 4 and 6 year old to assume such a level of control. Young children can be demanding for sure, particularly if you are a stay-at-home mom. I was a stay-at-home mother for a number of years and well remember the challenges. Whether you stay-at-home or work outside of the home, time away from the children is important. If you are sensing that your children are getting some positive reinforcement from your frustration and irritation, they probably are. They (and you) will be happier when parental frustration and irritation are no longer part of the family equation. The sooner that happens, the better. Taking time for yourselves (mommy/daddy time) allows you to recharge your own batteries and replenish your reserves.
Lastly, I encourage you to read up on Alpha Speech in The Well-Behaved Child (p.21). Alpha Speech is simply saying what you mean and meaning what you say with conviction. When used effectively, Alpha Speech sends a clear message to children that you are in charge - not them.
I hope this helps. With a plan and consistency these behaviors can be effectively addressed. Hang in there and stay the course.
Sharon Lamberth, CLPC
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