The next time you find yourself doing it, remember this article.
Children are likely to live up to what you believe of them. — Lady Bird Johnson
Complaining about your kids might feel like a harmless way to blow off steam, but it can be much more destructive than you think.
When complaining about your kids gets out of hand, it causes a toxic chain reaction in your brain.
I'm not talking about a bit of venting. We all do that.
I'm talking about chronic complaining.
Getting lost in a cycle that sucks you into a black hole of negativity and drains the joy from your soul.
Sure, you might feel a bit better after blowing off some steam, but you're making things worse.
And there's a reason for this.
Chronic complaining rewires your brain for negativity, so when you complain about your kids, that rewiring affects them.
Let's look at what happens and explore a few practical ideas for nipping it in the bud.
Here's what chronic complaining about your kids can do:
You can stop seeing the good in them
Because your brain creates pathways when you repeat a behavior, the more you complain, the easier it gets.
This makes it easier to recognize the negative and fixate on that.
You may even overlook or under-appreciate the good things they do because you don't notice them anymore.
When you always see the bad in someone, you stop enjoying the good things about them.
You might start feeling mad at them even when you're not
If you continuously complain about your kids, chances are you're also stewing about them in your head.
You could start holding a subconscious grudge against them.
This stewing might put you so on edge you're already primed to snap the moment something happens.
If you have multiple children, there may be one in particular that you complain about more.
You may even develop a bad attitude towards your most high-maintenance child.
You can drive them away
Children can sense when there's a problem.
They have keen instincts and are highly perceptive. They'll sense when you're on edge and simmering.
If you take your anger out on them, they'll begin to avoid you, removing themselves emotionally as well as physically.
They do this to protect themselves.
Look at it this way, when you know someone doesn't like you, you work hard to avoid them.
You can lose empathy for them
If complaining has caused you to become chronically negative, you may not be able to comfort your child when they need it.
It's hard to be emotionally invested in someone you don't like.
You may become desensitized to their pain and inadvertently neglect their emotional needs.
They might internalize your behavior
Children internalize the actions and energies of the people around them.
What you do, say, and how you act are life lessons for them.
If you're always complaining, they'll pick up on this negativity and, over time, become negatively programmed themselves.
You can lose friends
While it's true that misery loves company, it's only true to a point.
If you constantly complain about your kids, your attitude might feel toxic to some of your friends.
Friends with good relationships with their kids might not want your attitude infecting their energy.
It can set a dangerous precedent
If you get a lot of relief from releasing that pressure, you might inadvertently start aiming your negativity at the people you're complaining about.
It's a short jump from complaining about them behind their backs to complaining about them to their faces.
After all, they're easy targets. They've got nowhere to go.
From there, it's a slippery slope you can really lose your footing on until one day your child becomes your emotional punching bag.
Remember, children don't have the power to defend themselves. That's supposed to be your job.
You're supposed to be their chief support and advocate.
When you constantly victimize them because it makes you feel better, it turns them into your emotional slop bucket, and that's not fair.
It can make it even harder to fix the problems your complaining about
Complaining is so toxic that it's been found to damage the part of the brain that deals with problem-solving and critical thought.
So if you always complain about your children, you'll be less able to solve the issues you're complaining about.
When you can't solve your problems, they snowball and get worse.
So the more you complain, the worse things will get, which is why getting stuck in this loop is so dangerous.
Here's what you can do:
Stop - Just stop
First, realize that complaining gives you a payoff. You're getting a reward. It's the relief you feel from blowing off steam.
Then when you catch yourself doing it, stop.
Monitor your thoughts, and every time you do it, either say out loud or in your head the word stop.
It's incredible how helpful this one little act of mindfulness can be.
Once you get in the habit of noticing and saying stop to your complaining, it will start to lessen.
Then you can try some pro-active moves.
Try giving it some thought
Chances are you're complaining about your kids, but they're not the actual problem.
They might be a symptom but not the actual cause of your unhappiness.
This step requires you to be honest with yourself, so it may not be pleasant.
You can start by asking yourself these questions:
- Are you happy in your marriage?
- Are you overwhelmed with having to do everything and be everything to everybody?
- Does your partner undermine your parenting or turn the kids against you?
- Is parenting burning you out?
- Are you a stay-at-home mom, but you wish you could be back at work?
- Is your job the real problem?
- Do you have a toxic extended family?
- Do you have unresolved childhood issues of your own?
- Are there other unacknowledged pressures in your life?
The good news is that painful as it may be, the first step to fixing something is recognizing that it needs to be fixed.
Once you pinpoint the real issue, you can start to work on that.
Try to say positive things
Sometimes it's just that easy.
When you want to say something negative about your kids, especially to them, change gears.
Find something good in the situation and focus on that.
I don't mean you have to compliment them while they rip down the curtains.
But if it's just a regular day and they're getting on your nerves for no reason, try to find something they're doing that you can be positive about.
If they're used to being criticized, this will be a welcome change and might soften their edges enough for you both to share a happy moment.
One happy moment builds from another, and eventually, you'll be able to lay a new foundation for your relationship.
Most importantly, give yourself a break
Parenting is hard, harder than you can ever imagine before you have kids.
They don't come with a manual, and a lot of "advice" going around is just plain wrong.
So don't feel too bad if it seems like you just can't get it right. Perfect parenting is the stuff of legend.
Also, kids can be jerks and annoying, so you're bound to complain about them now and again.
Even if you've just realized you're in a cycle of toxic complaining, don't get too down on yourself.
Understand you're probably overwhelmed and try to control what you can.
Realize you do it, commit to doing better, and get to work.
You'll be glad you did.