Teaching our kids to be good complainers

me and LibWe teach our kids how to tie their shoes, brush their teeth and sing all the words to You Shook Me All Night Long.

We teach them how to say please, thank you and that’s what she said.

Sounds like we all have that parenting thing nailed. What’s left?

Now it’s time to teach them how to be good complainers.

You mean stamping your feet when you don’t get your way?


Calling the clerk an idiot when she gives you the wrong change?

Of course not.

Oh I get it. You’re saying just suck it up and don’t create a fuss?


We are here to learn how to teach our kids to stand up for themselves effectively. And to explain this to you, I am going to interview my daughter.

Um, Amy, isn’t your daughter in camp? I could have sworn you just posted a picture of her in someone else’s school shirt, a winter tuque and more bracelets than Beyonce?

OK you got me. She is in camp. I have already missed the deadline for this blog so I don’t want to keep you waiting any longer. I have a plan – I will interview her – in my head – and play both her part and mine.

The Interview

Hi Liberty, how old are you and how is camp so far?

You know how old I am. You’re my Mom.

Yes but I’m interviewing you for a wider studio audience. Plus this conversation is all taking place in my head. So work with me here please.

Oh, Mom. You’re so funny (eye roll). I’m 10. Camp is fantastic, this is definitely the BSE (Best Summer Ever).

Tell us about your latest complaining experience.wise women blog 1b

I was at the movies with you, uh, I mean my Mom, and she gave me 20 bucks to buy myself a snack and told me to meet her in the movie theatre.

Really? Your mom didn’t come with you to buy a snack?

Well she doesn’t like to miss the previews. And I don’t care about previews. So I didn’t mind getting my kiddie meal thingy and then meeting her inside.

Wow. That is very brave of you. Most of us choose to actually supervise our children and your mother clearly dropped the ball. How lucky is she that nothing happened to you.

Is that a question?

Ok you’re right. Back to the story. So did you order your popcorn?

I got a blue slush, a popcorn and I think mini M&Ms and then I went to find my Mom. I handed her a toonie and some other change and my Mom said Lib, I gave you twenty bucks, you are missing ten dollars.

So your Mom got up and went with you to the cash to show you how to be a good complainer? To set an example?

No. I think I told you, my mom likes to watch the previews. I said, Mom what should I do? And Mom said go back out and tell the cashier that she owes you more change. So I went back outside and I told the cashier, her name was Angel, how cute is that, that I’m missing money. You only gave me ten dollars said Angel. My mom said I gave you twenty, I told her. Well, Angel said, at the end of my shift the manager will cash me out and if my cash doesn’t balance then I will have ten dollars left over. And I will know that’s your ten dollars and I will give it to you. So I said OK.

And then what happened?

I went inside and watched Entourage.

Wait, your mom took you to see Entourage? Don’t you think you’re a bit young?

Aren’t we supposed to be talking about the kid’s combo?

Yeah, ok, fine. The kid’s combo. So what happened after the movie?

At the end of the movie, my Mom and I went to the snack area and Angel wasn’t there. My mom told the girls standing around what happened. One of the girls said, well maybe your daughter dropped the ten dollars. My mom said yeah, that is definitely possible. The funny thing is though that Angel said she only gave her ten dollars so Angel admitted from the beginning that she had only given change for ten not twenty. Mom asked to speak to a manager.

The manager came out, holding ten bucks in his hand. Here, he said to Mom, I think this is yours. Mom said thanks and then we went home. It was raining.

That is a great example of an effective complaint. Why do you think everything worked out in the end?

wise women 1cI have no clue. Why don’t you ask my Mom.

(Interview is over)

What Worked Well:

First, I sent Liberty out to deal with the missing change on her own. This gave her the confidence to learn that she can solve her own problems. She felt that I had faith in her and that she was mature enough to ask for her missing change.

Second, when the clerk asked for more time, Lib and I respected the process. While it would have been tempting to race outside and demand that the register be balanced on the spot, we probably would not have made any friends that way. By giving the theatre staff the time to figure out their finances we were able to watch the rest of the movie and get our money in the end. Please bear in mind though that I am able to do that with ten dollars. Had the differential been more significant, I doubt I could have showed such restraint.

Third, I showed Liberty that I would back her up. Although she was initially sent out to handle the complaint on her own to build her self esteem, I did help her speak to the manager and escalate the complaint. When teaching our kids how to complain effectively they need to know that we will be behind them every step of the way.

Finally, on the way home I explained to Liberty that when she is given twenty dollars she needs to account for all twenty. We reviewed how to check your change at the cash, a skill that is particularly important when travelling to the US and all the money is the same colour, a lesson that I learned the hard way buying a pack of gum at LaGuardia airport in 1988.

The best way to teach your kids to complain effectively is to give them the chance to complain for themselves.

They will build confidence, negotiation skills and self-esteem and you will get to watch the previews.

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