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It’s a bitterly cold Saturday afternoon in January and a bit of a slow day at the house. Your child is bored and complaining to you, which, unfortunately, is not something new. Stir-crazy and frustrated, he can’t help but whine about his boredom: "There is nothing good on TV;" "Why can't I go to the movies?" "I can’t go outside, and Sam is away, so I have no one to play with and nowhere to go." You buy an Amazon movie to occupy him, but after it ends, he starts grumbling again to no avail.


If this sounds familiar, you are in good company. Complaining is a mental habit that is seemingly ingrained in our culture. Whether we are lamenting our favorite team’s loss on our Facebook wall, bemoaning our wait in the checkout line, or whining about the weather to our waitress in Chili’s, complaining is a widely-accepted communication style that sometimes elicits empathy from those we are groaning to!

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But even if we find a sympathetic ear, the act of complaining itself creates more dissatisfaction. As Mason Cooley suggests, complaints cease when the issue is resolved, but if the mental habit remains unaddressed, the complaints will arise again and again.

To be clear, we are not referring to situations when kids are voicing legitimate concerns—telling you they are hungry (when they really are), for example. Rather, the issue we want to address is the incessant whining for no good reason. One way to alleviate this habitual needless complaining is to teach our children mindfulness skills.

Mindfulness practice cultivates an awareness of our present mental and emotional state. With mindfulness, we (and our kids) can more accurately evaluate our current situation, determine whether the present concern is a legitimate one, and break the habit of mindless complaining about inconsequential inconveniences.

So, the next time you find yourself exasperated by your kids’ needless whining, try these three mindfulness techniques to help them kick the complaining habit:

1. Calm yourself to avoid the quick fix

When our kids aggravate us, we often mindlessly adopt the "fix it" mentality, which is the very approach that encourages the mental habit of complaining. To start, be mindful of what is happening.

Realize that, while a quick fix to "do" something to remedy the "problem" is always available (like buying an Amazon movie or providing a new video game), it is not the best long-term solution for the dissatisfied child. In fact, doing this may further ingrain the complaining habit by teaching the child that this negative behavior actually works.

When your children are relentlessly bellyaching, reorient your own perspective by taking a few deep breaths. Follow your breath and pay attention to it. Start noticing how the air moves in through your nostrils and follow it all the way down to your abdomen and all the way back out. Breathe deeply.

No matter what is happening, you can find a minute to perform this exercise. It will have a calming effect on your system and allow you to respond thoughtfully to your child’s whining so that you don’t default to the quick fix.

2. Reorient children to the reality of the situation

Gently reorienting our kids to what is actually happening will help them drop the complaining habit. Rather than placating them (which won’t stop the complaints from reoccurring), help them see the possibilities available in the present moment. Our belief that there is something deficient or lacking about our present situation often does not comport with reality.

A gratitude practice is helpful here. Take out a sheet of paper and have your children list things that they are grateful for, along with a brief reason why they are grateful for them. Help them list 10 things.

These can be anything: Siblings, their home, their dog, or whatever comes to mind. Try to turn the focus away from electronics (i.e. the latest video game machine of choice) and more towards their relationships, experiences and necessities that we often take for granted.

3. Focus on present moment experiences and intentions

Real change occurs when we can help our children focus on the present moment and realize that happiness does not come from obtaining new toys or novel experiences. One way we can help them obtain this perspective is to reduce or limit their screen time. Giving them a break from constant stimulation so they can actually focus on the present moment will (in time!) reduce their complaining.

A few activities that help kids develop mindfulness include:

If we really think about it, and encourage our children to think about it, there are countless activities that are readily available to our kids that help them focus on the present moment. And there are countless others that bring us parents into the moment with them, as well.

We can help them ride a bike, join them on the play structure at the park, or read to them. Or you and your children may enjoy doing nothing together. Simply sitting quietly in each other’s restful, loving presence and relishing the moment can be a transformative practice for your family’s overall well-being.

By using these mindfulness techniques, we can let go of the complaining habit and refocus our attention—and our children's attention—to the simple and readily-available things that make us happy and content.

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When I was expecting my first child, I wanted to know everything that could possibly be in store for his first year.

I quizzed my own mom and the friends who ventured into motherhood before I did. I absorbed parenting books and articles like a sponge. I signed up for classes on childbirth, breastfeeding and even baby-led weaning. My philosophy? The more I knew, the better.

Yet, despite my best efforts, I didn't know it all. Not by a long shot. Instead, my firstborn, my husband and I had to figure it out together—day by day, challenge by challenge, triumph by triumph.

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The funny thing is that although I wanted to know it all, the surprises—those moments that were unique to us—were what made that first year so beautiful.

Of course, my research provided a helpful outline as I graduated from never having changed a diaper to conquering the newborn haze, my return to work, the milestones and the challenges. But while I did need much of that tactical knowledge, I also learned the value of following my baby's lead and trusting my gut.

I realized the importance of advice from fellow mamas, too. I vividly remember a conversation with a friend who had her first child shortly before I welcomed mine. My friend, who had already returned to work after maternity leave, encouraged me to be patient when introducing a bottle and to help my son get comfortable with taking that bottle from someone else.

Yes, from a logistical standpoint, that's great advice for any working mama. But I also took an incredibly important point from this conversation: This was less about the act of bottle-feeding itself, and more about what it represented for my peace of mind when I was away from my son.

This fellow mama encouraged me to honor my emotions and give myself permission to do what was best for my family—and that really set the tone for my whole approach to parenting. Because honestly, that was just the first of many big transitions during that first year, and each of them came with their own set of mixed emotions.

I felt proud and also strangely nostalgic as my baby seamlessly graduated to a sippy bottle.

I felt my baby's teething pain along with him and also felt confident that we could get through it with the right tools.

I felt relieved as my baby learned to self-soothe by finding his own pacifier and also sad to realize how quickly he was becoming his own person.



As I look back on everything now, some four years and two more kids later, I can't remember the exact day my son crawled, the project I tackled on my first day back at work, or even what his first word was. (It's written somewhere in a baby book!)

But I do remember how I felt with each milestone: the joy, the overwhelming love, the anxiety, the exhaustion and the sense of wonder. That truly was the greatest gift of the first year… and nothing could have prepared me for all those feelings.

This article was sponsored by Dr. Brown's. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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My husband and I always talked about starting a family a few years after we were married so we could truly enjoy the “newlywed” phase. But that was over before it started. I was pregnant on our wedding day. Surprise!

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