7 Tricks To Curb Car-Ride Complaining

Parenting, Practice Gratitude / Tuesday, June 30th, 2015

7 tricks

We’ve all experienced frustration as we hop in the car after a day of fun in the sun when a tired child opens their mouth and complaining spills out.

We know the feeling of exasperation that EVEN after we spent the entire day engaged in making them happy, they respond with complaining instead of contentment.

About true things.

About silly things.

About nothing.

While frustrating, it is understandable that children are prone to complaining. Adults complain too – when they’re tired, or hot, or hungry, or thirsty, or bored, or when there is no good reason for it at all.

Of course our children are going to struggle with it too.

I do. More than I’d like to admit.

The problem is, complaining is infectious. It can create a vicious cycle that goes something like this:

Our family has a fun day. Everyone is tired. It takes just one complaint to send our family down the complaining rabbit hole. We request the complaining stop. They complain some more. We become frustrated. Scolding a tired child to stop complaining generates more complaining, and potentially tears. We find ourselves complaining about THEIR complaining and maybe even asking if we need to ‘pull this car over’.

It takes awareness and effort to stop the complaining cycle and to redirect. As parents, we need to recognize and prepare for the very real chance that our child WILL be a stick-in-the-mud at some point this summer.

Or…gasp…that it might be US who allow that first complaint to escape our lips.

Complaining happens.

Tired people, enclosed spaces and boredom make the car a place with high potential for complaining. We need a game-plan to curb the complaining, without threatening to pull the car over to the curb!

Whether the complaining is ours or theirs, we need to stop it in its tracks so we have the chance to finish fun days well.

7 Tricks To Curb Car-Ride Complaining | thisgratefulmama.com

7 Tricks To Curb Car-Ride Complaining


Yes, you! Children emulate their parents. A complaining parent will have a complaining child. If we want our children to stop complaining, we need to lead by example. Listen to your own words during the day. What are you complaining about? The weather? Your relationships? Your clothes? Your child’s complaining? Whatever it is – STOP IT. It is better to be silent than to demonstrate complaining to your children.

2. Apologize

No one is perfect. Even the most purposeful and grateful mama is going to complain. Pay attention! When you catch yourself complaining, stop AND THEN talk to your children about it. Tell them you’re sorry for having a bad attitude. CHOOSE to stop and demonstrate moving on with a positive attitude. Give them a real-life example to emulate.

3. Demonstrate Gratitude

Actively try to replace complaining words and thoughts with gratitude. Let your children hear you giving thanks and praise to God and others MORE than they hear anything else. Be sure to thank your spouse, children and others generously. Encourage children to thank each other. Try focusing on gratitude while walking to the car and during those first moments IN the car. It can set the tone for the whole ride home!

4. Reminisce

Stop car-ride complaining by sharing your favorite moments of the day. As you talk about the fun you had, children can begin to think about the fun they had. Be engaged and listen attentively as they share their favorite moments. If you can, extend their story by asking leading questions (What about when…? How did you feel when…? Wasn’t it fun when…?). The longer they spend recalling the best of the day, the longer their mind is off of anything that leads to complaining.

5. Praise Them

Instead of demanding that a child stop complaining, redirect them with praise. Tell them how they made you proud that day. What did they do today that was kind, helpful, gentle, loving or patient? What did they do that was new, challenging, or out of their comfort zone today? While a child may have trouble shifting from complaining to joy simply by being instructed to do so, praising what they do well can help them see their circumstances from a different perspective. Help them make the leap by lifting them up. Extend the praise by going around, addressing each child in the car and encourage each child to lift their siblings up as well.

6. Planned Distractions

An over-tired child has trouble with transitions. When getting ready for a long, fun day, think about what will help your child transition at the end of the day. If you are pushing nap time back or skipping nap time altogether, consider bringing your child’s comfort blanket or toy. If an activity involves changing the normal meal schedule, bring extra snacks and drinks. If a long drive is required, throw in a few toys, kids CDs or books to keep them busy and focused on something other than complaining. If you haven’t planned ahead, engage your family in a game of I-Spy, sing a song, or start counting SOMETHING (trucks, red cars, blue cars, planes, birds, cows).

7. Pray Together

Pray when you get in the car, BEFORE anyone has had the chance to complain. Thank God for the fun day, for memories made, for each family member, and ask Him to help your family finish the day with grateful hearts. Prayer can effectively and powerfully set the tone for every one in the car. 

How do you curb car-ride complaining?

If you’re hopping in the car after a public meltdown, check out these tips as well! 7 DO’s and DON’Ts after your Child’s Public Meltdown

6 Replies to “7 Tricks To Curb Car-Ride Complaining”

  1. Thanks for the tips! It ids so true that if one person starts complaining, the others will follow. Me and my hubby just remind our daughter about the wonderful day we just had, this sometimes work and sometimes it doesn’t. So I definitely have to try your other tips!

    1. Just checked out your blog – it’s lovely! We remind them of the day too, in fact, we were doing that on the way home last night. It worked last night, but doesn’t always work for us either! Helps to have a few strategies so most of the time we can enjoy our ride home. Thanks for commenting and stopping by!

  2. Thanks for sharing your strategies. Our three boys are now grown and two have children of their own. I remember our car rides when they were children though and remember that the times we were in the car together were often the best opportunities for profound discussions because we chose the time to focus on reminiscing, sharing how our days went, dealing with an important concern or issue etc. Now we have grandchildren I anticipate that car rides can provide the same opportunity for such profound discussions.

  3. Fortunately, we don’t have to deal with our kids complaining too often in the car because we are mostly home, but I tell them no complaining is allowed and then try to get a car game going.

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