Grumbling is an Opportunity for Growth

Keith McCurdy
Keith McCurdy

A common question asked by many parents is “How can I get my child to stop grumbling at my requests?”  My response is obviously…..”Stop asking them to do things they don’t want to do!”  While this may seem a little ridiculous, and it is, it often begins the correct conversation about grumbling really not being the problem.

When a child grumbles, it is often in response to a request that is unpleasant.  In other words, they are often responding in a consistent manner with their emotional state…..what could be wrong with that? I mean really, when was the last time you asked a child to empty the trash or mow the lawn and their response has been “Oh man, I have been waiting for you to ask me to do that.  I was worried you had forgotten and I would miss out on the joy of that experience.”

Of course they grumble!  And as parents we often think the target is the grumbling.  So we typically have one of two approaches.  Either we go on a never ending battle with our children about how they should do things with joy in their heart, or some other nonsensical idea, and that grumbling demonstrates just how immature they are and we are going to nag them until they grow up….. I call this ridiculing.  Or we remove the burden of the request because we just can’t stand for Junior to be unhappy and suffer….I call this rescuing.  Both are unhealthy and do nothing to promote growth in the child.

Grumbling is a natural and expected part of the emotional re-ordering process of the child.  The process of developing maturity that leads to one having the ability to do what is right, wise, healthy, etc…..even when you don’t want to or feel like it.   Grumbling just indicates that your child is in the moment of opportunity for growth….so it is a good thing!

The key is how to respond.  Instead of ridiculing or rescuing, the correct response is to empathize and encourage.  Empathizing with the child acknowledges that you get it….what you are asking is possibly not pleasant and not what the child wants to do.  Heck, it might even be a difficult task and one that stretches your child’s level of development.  It sounds like this, “I know you don’t want to take the trash out…or, I know mowing the lawn is not what you wanted to be doing this morning….or even, I know, I hated doing that when I was your age.”

When a child hears this it may not change their immediate emotional state but all of a sudden you are human and they begin to realize you get it.  They realize how they feel does get taken into the equation and that it is Ok to not always be happy with being burdened.

Then comes encouragement.  This tells the child that you know they can handle it…they can do it….they will get through it.  It often sounds like this, “I know it’s a pain in the tail, but you will get it done….or, I know you don’t like doing that, but you will be fine….or simply, I hear you but it needs to be done.”

This communicates clearly to the child two key things…first that you have confidence in their abilities with both large and small things and second, that there are more important things in life than how they feel.  And understanding that how they feel should not be their personal compass to life is one of the biggest obstacles/valuable lessons to be learned.

So, take inventory the next time you get a grumble.  Are you possibly a rescuer or ridiculer?  Try empathizing and encouraging but remember, it is a process and healthy struggle is the engine to that very growth and maturity we are seeking for our children.

Keith is a Family and Parenting Expert who continues to work with children, families, and individuals in the Roanoke Valley and surrounding areas in hopes of helping to rebuild the American family.   For more information and ideas, take a look at his new website and blog at