Does your family have a whiner? (Do you grimace when I mention this person?)
One of my children, who is five, has managed to bring whining to an art form. We could, say, 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 will have nary a problem finding out what is not quite up to what he can imagine.
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 an ingratitude and complaining issue. Unfortunately, I’ve gotta wonder how much he’s caught it from his mother. It’s not something you’d see — at all, really — unless maybe you lived with me. (I must have less of a problem feeling sorry for myself in the comfort of my own home.) This is more of an X-ray issue. You’d see my problem if you saw my heart.
But recently, I realized I was accidentally — slowly — experiencing a cure! I’m not there yet. Recently fellow blogger Katie directed me to a wonderful blog post on creating gratitude in your children … which led to me reading the book the author had written, entitled “One Thousand Gifts.” Essentially, author Anne Voskamp — a mother of six — found herself transformed by a dare 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 sources of thankfulness is replacing my old way of seeing the world. It turned my eyes, really, from all the things that weren’t going my way — or even from the discouragement of legitimate problems — and onto the gifts God kept piling up, just dumping them in stacks and stacks into my life. In truth, it helps me choose joy. Stopping complaining has been a good discipline for my mouth. But to transform my heart, God actually replaced my complaining. Instead, He’s helping me see His goodness and worship Him there.
So as I think about cultivating the ground for the gratitude God wants to grow in my kids’ hearts, I was grateful for some of Anne’s suggestions: As part of your daily routine, 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.) Help them to start thankfulness journals of their own. We’re going to start one in the new school year; I have talked my seven-year-old down from his initial well-intended goal of 1 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 turn from whining — and turn it into thanks. (This job is still ultimately the Holy Spirit’s. Even as I write, my child has whined three times. Seriously.)
:: 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 or AWANA 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.questforcompassion.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’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 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, Philippians 2:14–15, Philippians 4:12–13, and 1 Thessalonians 5:16–18.
Your turn. Please help those of us caught in the drama of whining! What practical tips do you have to stomp out whining and cultivate contentment?
Janel Breitenstein graduated summa cum laude from John Brown University and began her career with NavPress, where she worked on The Message Bible. After having four children she resumed her professional career (around her momlife) by serving as a writer for FamilyLife. In January of 2012 Janel and her husband, John, packed up their family of six and moved to Uganda to serve with Engineering Ministries International (eMi), an organization that focuses on poverty relief and development, providing structural design and construction management for Christian organizations in the third world. Join us as we all learn first hand, through Janel’s posts, what it’s like to go from suburban America, to answer God’s call in Africa!