Complaining and whining are two habits that seem to come naturally to most children. They are also two of the things most likely to drive a mother to send everyone to their rooms in an effort to avoid the assault on her ears and nerves. For generations, parents have had children memorize Philippians 2:14 with varying degrees of success. Although whining and complaining can be stopped by various consequences, it is the root of complaining that concerns me the most.
You see, at the heart of every complaint is the idea that it is easier to talk about something than to actually do something. Think about it. It is easier to complain about exercising and eating right than to actually do it – even though it is what is best for our bodies. It is easier to complain about someone than to do the work necessary to improve the relationship.
Training your children to act rather than complain, is teaching them to be the sort of active Christians God calls us to be. Can you think of a time when Jesus or the Apostles sat around just complaining? If you are mentioning a time, look again. Most likely, you will find they are actually teaching and correcting these people – not complaining about them behind their backs. (OK an argument could be made for the Pharisees, but hang with me – I think it still meets the action criteria).
As Christians, you and your children have a choice. You can either be stationary – complaining, whining and doing nothing- or you can be people of action. So how do you turn your complainers into godly people of action? Here are some starting points:
- When the first word of complaint starts, stop the person from continuing with the question, “Have you done everything you could possibly do to make the situation better?” I agree, sometimes our children just need to vent after a hard day. If though, this is the fifteenth time in the last two days you have heard the exact same complaint, it is no longer venting. Your child has decided complaining about the situation is better than doing something to fix it.
- Help your child brainstorm ways to try and improve the situation. Sometimes the answer will be clear, like “Put ice on it like the doctor told you to do”. Other situations will be more complex. Either there are multiple things your child could try to improve the situation or in some cases there may be no clear action your child can take. Spend some time generating ideas, don’t just supply the “correct” one. Your child needs to practice being creative and godly as well as active. If you want to improve your child’s mood in the process, it is okay to be a little silly with some of your ideas. “I think we should just sell everything and move to Antarctica”, may just get your child smiling after a tough day.
- Teach your child how to choose godly courses of action. A quick reading of the Bible or the newspaper will confirm there are multiple courses of action in any situation. Some of them are neither wise, healthy nor godly. You need to help your children learn to use the Bible as a guide when making decisions. It will help them immediately eliminate choices which involve lying, for example -narrowing their choices to the godly ones which are most likely to work.
- Give your child wise, godly counsel when their course of action doesn’t produce the desired results. When dealing with people, our godly actions may still evoke an ungodly response from others. This does not change what God expects or wants from us. Sometimes our actions will bring good results. Even when they don’t, we need to remember our ultimate goal is eternity in Heaven. King David was chased by King Saul for several years, even though he had done nothing wrong. I am not totally sure why David had to endure those years of bad behavior from Saul, but I know God probably used it to strengthen David for what was ahead. Plus, we are blessed with the beautiful Psalms David wrote during this stressful time of his life. You and your child may never understand why her godly actions didn’t work the way you had hoped. You can rest assured though, God is still with your child.
- Call your children to action in situations bigger than their immediate world. Throughout the Bible, God calls His people to serve others and share their faith. Help your child find something big on which to take action. Is your child bothered by litter on the side of the road? By orphaned children in another country or foster children in our own? Show them in the Bible where God expects us to get involved in those situations instead of just complaining about them. Take time and help your child find some small way to begin taking action to help improve the situation.
- Remember to teach your children the power of prayer. There will be times when you and your child can think of nothing to do to improve a situation. You may just need to be a little more creative or you may be right and there is almost nothing you can do. Yet, we often forget the most important thing we can and should do in any situation and that is to pray. Our conversations with God can bring us peace and sometimes clarity. God often picks up the battle and fights it for us. Regardless (God can still answer prayers with “No”), we need to teach our children to pray to God about everything. My guess is that God would prefer to hear about everything – even minor things- rather than not hearing from our children at all.
- Remind your child starting small is okay. We live in a cultural where bigger is often considered to be better. Sometimes though it is the small drops of water adding up over time that make the real difference. Any action in a godly direction, no matter how small, can make a huge difference in the hands of God.
So, the next time one of your children begins to complain, pull out this battle plan. Used often enough, you may find complaining and whining have left your house for good. You will also have raised children who are constantly using godly actions in an effort to change the problems of the world and the Church.