4 Yr. Old Complainer!!!

Updated on January 18, 2010
K.O. asks from Roseville, MI
12 answers

My son just turned 4 in Nov. I am at my witts end with his attitude. All he does is complain. "I don't like ____ for breakfast" When I know he does and he is the one that chose ____ to eat. or when something is on TV "I hate that" when it's just some commercial that's on. "I hate cleaning up my toys, it's boring..." "I don't like my bed because it's squeeky", "I can't go to sleep because my room isn't bright enough" when he has the same night light he has had for years. I swear all he does is complain. I don't get it and don't know what to do. Bed time has become the worst. His games are taking 2 hours for him to go to sleep. I dread bedtime. Along with his attitude is the stmping the feet and walking hunched over and shrugging his shoulders. I'm going crazy here!!! I feel like a dictator. No - stop - don't - stop complaining is all I say all day long. Any advice???

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So What Happened?

OK so I've read the responses so far and I will def. try some things out. BUT I wanted to add a few things that I should have said earlier. The word hate is not allowed. I told him that it makes people go away and never come back. So it's rare that he says it & when he does he knows as soon as it's out of his mouth he's in trouble. I've done the taking away toys as punnishment. Just the other day I said if you continue to do that I will take away _____ & ______ for the next 2 days. He looked at me and said "I'm fine with that, you can take them away". I've also thrown toys away when he won't pick up. He has watched me walk them to the garbage at the curb. He cries but gets over it. At XMas we tried the whole Santa is watching if your not good he won't come thing. He said fine, lets take down the tree and decorations. Other than this he a good kid. He's polite, timely, does good at school...

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answers from Detroit on

I would ignore his negative comments. He is just trying to exhibit power. Don't give in. Be fair, but firm.

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answers from Saginaw on

Ask for what you want instead.

That's actually my advice to you, as well as what I think makes a pretty good statement to the child.

If you want him to use more appreciative language, ask what he does like for breakfast, what he does like on tv (not suggesting you need to cater or pander, just be willing to hear the answer)... we have a tremendously negative society, with tremendously negative communication standards. Not saying what we like in favour of going on at length about what we don't like is pretty normal, here.

If you have a sense that he's trying to ask for something to be different, give him an opening to ask.

4yos are not geniuses at communication: they do what's worked so far, what they've seen and heard others do, and what they've come up with on their own. They repeat what 'works.'

Ask yourself 'what is he asking for' and rephrase his 'I hate' sentence in a new way for him: 'Oh, you didn't realize that you didn't want to eat this for breakfast when you asked for it? What do you want to do about that?' or 'You mean you have tv shows that you like better than this one... what would those be?'

Diligence with your own complaining is a good idea, but tv is filled with people who complain and then get things changed... you're not the only example, but you are right there all the time to give a better example on the spot with exactly what he wants to communicate. That will be how he can learn a more effective (less annoying) communication style.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Lansing on


After reading your "what happened" comments, I am going to recommend a book to you called "How to talk so kids will listen and how to listen so kids will talk" by Adele Faber & Elaine Mazlish.

It sounds like your son is saying these words to get your attention and it makes me wonder what is really upsetting him. The book gives great ideas and I have learned how to ask my son questions to figure out what is really bothering him. Sometimes kids say things about whatever is in front of them, but what's really making them mad is something completely different.

Because he is only four he may not be able to articulate everything that is bothering him, but by empathizing with his feelings it may help to clear up some of the bad behavior.

Good luck. And, congratulations for baby #2!



answers from Kalamazoo on

First of all, I don't let my kids say "hate". I think it sounds horrible and they get punished if they say it. If my kids complain about picking up their toys, I'd say "Fine, I'll pick them up for you and throw them in the TRASH!". Complain about your bed and I'll take it out of your room and make you sleep on the floor! You teach him that if he doesn't have anything nice to say, then keep his mouth shut....especially about the food. Explain to him that some kids don't even have food. 2 hours to get him to sleep at age 4 is ridiculous! Tuck him in bed and leave! He is 4 yrs old. I punish my kids for stomping, slamming doors, that hunched over whining walk - any poor attitude. I tell them I don't want to look at it and send them to their rooms or tell them that I'll give them something real to whine about like a timeout or extra chores. We need to teach our children how lucky they are compared to most kids in the world. Some of this is just his age, but that doesn't mean it's ok to let this behavior continue. Pick a punishment and stick with it and I'm serious about taking things away like the bed. One big move like that and he'll know you're serious. Also make sure that you and hubby aren't complainers......



answers from Detroit on

I don't agree w/ Bonnie's post as this can only impact more negative behavior.

I also have a son that can do this. What I have noticed in our home if he hears either me or hubby complain about something. If one does this often (complaining) then it will be picked up. I don't mean all the time, but if you have a bad day and you are just fuming and complaining ~ then you have your source as our children do often mimic us or those they are around often enough. ;)

I strive to teach my son to respect everything and everyone, as well as to make his own opinion of things. I am trying to teach him NOT to be judgmental on issues or with classmates (as this will hopefully teach him later on to be tolerant of others and not misjudge someone incorrectly.). There are so many values that do begin in the home and with us as the parents. I have done my own self-work to be a not only a better provider in my field of service, but it has helped me to become a better parent as well by instilling some great values to pass on to my son and husband.

I do feel that being patient, open of heart and mind, calm and positive (and a few others); and teaching/ sharing this with your child/ren & family can help to squash most negative behaviors.



answers from Detroit on

I think its faze because my four year old has been doing this since november too. and she turns 5 in febuary i thought it was from school till i read your request. if you find something that works let meknow because i have tried time outs and going to bed and ignoring it and it all not working. let m eknow if you find something out. because now my 2 year old is starting to do it too.



answers from Grand Rapids on

Oh, this sounds SOOO familiar! I feel for you!! I currently have a 4 year old and hear a lot of the same thing. Since she's been young, we've always done the 'choices' thing (you can choose to do x or x, do x or x, etc.) so we continue with the whining. Ok, if you don't like what we are eating (and she does) then you can get down - but you won't get anything else to eat until <next meal>. When she doesn't stop and she has been asked many times to stop, it's you need to choose, either stop whining and stay here with us or go up to your room. Often she doesn't 'choose' to go to room, but continues so we end up taking her up to her room and remind her that by continuing the behavior, she has choosen to go to her room and she can rejoin as soon as she is done.

We've had problems at bed time too. We have had nights where she didn't like this, didn't like that, couldn't make a choice, didn't want me to help, so I finally gave her a time limit and then I was tucking her in as she was. If she was still in her clothes, then she wasi going to bed in her clothes - her choice. If she didn't have her music on, then she wasn't going to get music that night. Time came and she wasn't quite ready and still fussing at me, but I went in, gave her a kiss, turned off her light and closed the door. I can tell you she wasn't happy, but most nights are better now - none have been quite that bad.

We also found that rewarding the behavior when she doesn't whine also helps. We have done 'tickets' that she can collect and trade in for things like a carousel ride, stickers, special game time with just her and mom or dad. Nothing expensive. We have also recently moved to a 'responsibility' chart (made by Melissa & Doug) where she works on getting the smile faces on jobs that she does all day long - they even have one for no whining!! If she gets all of her smile faces in a day, then she gets her ticket (making it so she gets less of them and she has to 'work' more for them).

Good luck and if you find a magic potion somewhere that gets rid of the whining and complaining, let me know!!




answers from Detroit on

My oldest son tends to be a negative child!! And complained similarly until recently. There is a great book called Positive Discipline and it has a section on the negative child and it has helped us. More importantly I noticed that I was being negative! Not towards my son, but in conversations I was having with my husband. My husband and I have a lot of stress in our lives and it occurred to me recently that whenever I was talking to my husband I was usually complaining about the day. I was venting about my day, when my husband got home, not realizing that my son was absorbing my attitude. NOT that this is what you are doing, but when I noticed this I started trying to talk to my husband only about the positive things that had happened during the day and wouldn't you know it, my son's attitude toward life changed!!

Hope that helps,




answers from Lansing on

Try to consider the fact that he will no longer be an only child. This could be some of the issue. He doesn't want to share mommie/daddy with anyone but doesn't know how to express it. Also, consider your response, both verbally and physically, to his complaints. It sounds like his complaining is driving you more crazy than it is him. So what, he complains. Respond with positivity. Ask him why he suddenly dislikes his breakfast choice when he liked it before or just chose it to eat, etc. Some people complain more, it's their nature, not always pleasant to be around but you can deal with it in a positive way. You may have to repeat your positive responses over and over but eventually he will get the message and the complaining should subside. I have raised four children, always speaking to them in a calm, rational manner until it became necessary to raise my voice when needed, i.e. safety involved, and then they understood that's a big "no-no" and they should try hard to not do it again. Pick your battles wisely. Good luck.



answers from Detroit on

Put an end to it right now. Start some discipline. Watch Supernanny on Fridays and get some hints.

Implement time out/naughty chair for every complaint. Or every ten complaints. And explain why he's in time out; because all he does is complain. And it's just as boring having to listen to it as he says cleaning toys is. Cleaning isn't fun, no. But it's necessary now and then. Make it into a game. Get it all picked up within so many minutes and there's a popcicle waiting!

But put away the games. Give him a time when he is supposed to go to bed, stay there, sleep. Violations will mean something is taken away.

Observe where he goes and where/how he might be picking up these negative habits. From a friend? If so, tell him that the behavior is not acceptible and if it continues, he won't be visiting his friend as much.



answers from Detroit on

Change the repetition. :-)

I tell my kids " We do not talk like that" " Well, thats not a good attitude... Lets fix it ok?" " If your gonna complain then go to your room until your done." " That tone of voice makes my ears hurt... Can you go in the other room till the voice is fixed?" " Oh well, too bad... You still have to eat it!" " Get to it and do it." "Lets think of ways we can change this attitude"
If they are complaining about watching tv or that somethings boring then tell them they can go sit on the chair in a different room and read a book... Or play with their toys in their room... Or turn off the tv totally. :-)

Complaining about something being broken, wanting something new, etc... Well, tell them to start saving their money so they can buy themselves a new one. lol

I have an almost 9, 5, almost 3 and expecting in the spring.

Ignore most of the complaints... Its an age thing. Some of it is picked up from others he hears... If you know someone who is just complaining all the time... Tell him that just because he may hear someone talk like that does not mean that its allowed and "We don't do that!" But you have to be careful of what YOU say then... lol

Just wait till the whineing starts... Whining and complaining... ugh!!! If you have enough then send him to his room until HE is ready to fix the attitude/ voice/ etc... That puts HIM incharge of the length of his punishment and helps teach him that HE can regulate his attitude. Just make sure he goes to his room... Even if its only for a second... And if he comes back out and its not fixed... send him back right away...

If you let the negative take root it will only get worse. If you say the same exact things over and over again they become deaf to it... Think of many different ways to say the same thing and vary the useage... :-) keeps 'em on their toes and listening.

The stomping and slumping over is an attitude that our 5 yr old is doing and it gets him right to the sofa... Cause his feet MUST be too heavy to walk... So he can sit there until they work right again...

Even if a kid says they don't like something (food) they still have to try it... And NO there are no snacks or replacement food... And that is EVERY TIME and EVERYTHING that is served. There are many times that the kids say ewww... then clear their plate and beg for more... But if not... They must wait until the next snack time or meal... Or drink water. And don't argue or get upset (or at least show your perturbed) act blase about it... Oh, you don't like that? Too bad... Gotta try it anyways if you still don't like it then you get to wait till lunch... Then its YOUR RULES... But his decision on if he's gonna starve himself. :-) He may opt out of food once... (don't save it... chuck it)... But he'll think twice the next time and maybe try a bite or two or 600...

Be inventive and remember... He will have kids one day and say "MOM!!! THIS IS DRIVING ME NUTS!!! THANK YOU FOR PUTTING UP WITH ME!!!" :-)

Keep your responses calm, and laid back... Like its not bothering you at all... Peaceful even... Then go in the bathroom and make faces at yourself in the mirror to let out the annoyance. lol


answers from Norfolk on

He needs some gratitude in his attitude.
When he complains about his food, tell him some have nothing to eat, and he can go hungry it he wants to.
When his bed is squeeky, tell him he's lucky to have a bed at all and he can sleep on the floor if he wants.
When his room isn't bright enough, tell him some people are homeless and sleep in cars or card board boxes or under over passes.
When he complains about TV, fine. Turn it off and he can go without.
He's old enough to know things could be a lot worse and he should be grateful for what he has.
Oh, and get him the movie 'Pollyanna' and watch it with him a few times.

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