How to Handle Complaining

I don’t care if students complain about tutoring or their test, and I don’t care if they stare at me like I just stole their birthday when I assign homework. I do care if a student does their work, has confidence in their ability and aces their test. I want students to do well on standardized tests, not fall in love with them.

Many students have a lot of homework and not much free time. Test prep means more of the former and less of the latter. Sometimes students complain. I would. Complaining is a way teenagers blow off steam and exert some control of their lives. It’s irritating, but there are worse crimes.

The best way I’ve found to deal with complaining is to validate the feelings behind the complaint without getting drawn into the details. For instance, if your child says, “I hate this test! It’s so stupid! Test prep isn’t working and I hope I fail!” Respond by focusing on their frustration: “You’ve got a lot of work this year. It must be frustrating to have this on top of it.”

That’s it. You don’t need to remind them how important the test is or address their comments about tutoring or failing. Now is not the time for instruction. Now is the time to show that you hear their complaints and give their feelings merit. Think about the last time you were upset. Did you want a reason why your thoughts weren’t 100 percent accurate, or did you want to be heard?

Their statement, “test prep isn’t working,” bears looking into. It could be that they actually believe it, in which case you should talk with their tutor (if they have one). Later – when they’ve calmed down – talk to them about that comment specifically. They could just be blowing off steam, or there could be a problem.

If the complaining ever becomes too much, or if it’s being used as a reason not to do work, then address it, but do so when they’re calm. Don’t bring it up when they’re triggered.

Often, you’ll find that once you validate the feelings behind the complaint, the complaining stops. On the whole, putting up with some complaining is fair trade for your child doing the work.

To your child’s success!

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