How to Curb Complaining at Home

Joanne Van Zuidam

curb complaining

Can a family of four resist the urge to gripe and grumble for three weeks?

The Challenge: No whining for 21 days

The Family: Kristen Crotty of Ijamsville, Maryland, son Matthew, 9, daughter Caitlyn, 7, and husband David (not shown)

So over it!

The complaints in the Crotty household would start the moment Caitlyn woke up, says Kristen: “She’d put on a pair of pants, not like them, start whining, take them off, and howl, I don’t like these pants. They’re too tight!” Matthew tended to complain more about having to go places he’d rather not. “The first thing he’d say to me when he got off the school bus was, ‘Do we have to go anywhere?’ I’d tell him he has a half-hour and then we’d have to leave for softball, and that’s when his groaning would start.” Kristen, a professional pet-sitter, could also count on a “whine-fest” when the kids had to accompany her on rounds. All this, on top of her own complaints about the stress of working an erratic schedule, carpooling the kids, and arguing about homework and chores, just became too much. “You know how in the beginning of the day you start out all nice and lovely? Then, as the day progresses, everything builds up, and by the end of the day you blow. That was me, every day,” Kristen admits. David would often get the brunt of these complaints, which is the one thing he complained about!

Stop-whining strategy

To inspire her family, Kristen initiated a friendly contest. She set out four jars for “Whine Money,” each labeled with a name. Then Kristen and David explained to the kids how the challenge would work. To start, each child was given a roll of quarters, and Kristen and David put aside a pile of dollar bills for themselves. For each complaint, the guilty party would deposit money into his or her jar—a quarter per transgression for the kids and a dollar each for the parents. At the end of the competition, the person with the least amount in the jar would win the whole pot. “Matthew was definitely more excited about the challenge than Caitlyn, and he understood, and remembered, that the contest was ongoing,” says Kristen. “Caitlyn had a harder time and kept complaining even after dropping a quarter in the jar!” What seemed to help her most was sibling rivalry: The two kids would often count the money and compare progress.

Slow and steady

The biggest obstacle Kristen faced: Her husband went away on business for a week. “I was handling everything, and when he called, I’d give him an earful just to get it out of my system,” she says. “After I hung up, I’d go deposit $4 in my jar!” Though she copped to complaining, she also became more aware of the habit. “I would pause before saying something and ask myself if it was really necessary. Many times, it wasn’t.” She also thinks the challenge helped her son: The second he had to drop a quarter in the jar, he would stop griping. Caitlyn, however, needed more prodding. “I had to tell her that when you say the same thing over and over again, it’s complaining, and a quarter goes in the jar,” she recalls. “I think she eventually got it.”

From griping to gratitude

The final tally: Kristen had the most money in her jar, followed by Caitlyn, Matthew, and then David. “The jars are staying,” says Kristen. “The challenge made us all aware of what we do, so we’re continuing with it on a monthly basis”—though she jokes that her husband should bed is qualified since he’ll win every month.“He only had $2 in his jar!” she says. And although the rest of the family saw the jars fill up fast in the beginning, the payments did slow down. As the weeks went on, Kristen saw a significant drop in complaints from Matthew and about a 50 percent reduction in her daughter’s whining—which she’ll happily take!

“Are we going to stop complaining altogether? No,” Kristen says. “We’re human; we’re going to have bad days.” But now she’s better able to keep things in perspective. “Compared to real problems,” she says, “I’ve got nothing to complain about.”

How do you curb complaining at home? Tell us in the comments!

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