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The Complaint Department

This week's Winsome Ways post will focus on a behavior that is common among children - and sadly some adults who never outgrow it.

Ever wonder what to do with the child, often a pre-teen, who is quick to find fault - with peers, parents, playthings, or pastimes? Perhaps he has a tendency to tattle or just complain, complain, complain. Sometimes such a tendency is a function of an underlying developmental or behavioral challenge or an extreme need for controlling the environment. Other times, a generalized spirit of discontent becomes a part of the climate of a classroom or family like a tropical depression that will not move. Regardless, one thing is certain, whether it's a fun, summer day or one smack dab in the middle of the school year, who wants to use up valuable minutes and energy with the minutia that can often consume a family or a classroom when one of its members tends toward this type of behavior?

A few years ago, I found a simple and surprisingly effective way to address this situation when other methods had failed. I simply capitalized on the "strength" of the easily offended child (or children), and put him in charge of the "Complaint Department". That's right - the Complaint Department!

What you will need:

  • A box or container marked COMPLAINT DEPARTMENT (you may cut a slot in it if you wish)
  • Slips of paper (you may create a simple complaint form or just use blank pieces of paper.

What to do next:

Predetermine a time when you calmly and matter-of-factly tell the child(ren)with this particular "gift" that you've noticed he has an acute sense of right and wrong - a deep and abiding desire for justice - and as a result, you are placing him in charge of all complaints. At this point, present him with the Complaint Department box to hold all such complaints, and advise the other children in your care that they should forward all future problems, issues, and yes, complaints to "Johnny"* who will now be running the Complaint Department. Further explain that all complaints must be written down and placed in the box (rather than blurted out) and that "Johnny" will be responsible to empty the box daily and address each complaint. "Johnny" must not only receive the complaints (including his own) but must find a way to resolve the issues as well. Expect some surprise and/or push-back to the idea, but insist everyone give it a try for at least a few days.

As a former public school teacher, this is pretty much where the exercise began and (soon) ended. "Johnny" was far less eager to complain if his problem 1) had to be written down, 2) needed to be put aside until later, 3) could not be used to offend others, 4) did not succeed in hijacking valuable instructional time, and 5) required him to think of a way to solve it. I was always pleasantly surprised to find that the need for a Complaint Department had a mercifully short life. 

In a Christian context, a far richer experience can result as you weave biblical principles into the lesson.

  • Matthew 18:15 will be the foundation for addressing complaints among people. 
  • Proposed solutions will be considered in light of Scripture.
  • Prayer to seek God's wisdom will be encouraged.
  • "Johnny" may seek the help of others in the family or classroom to resolve problems.
  • The parent or teacher has the final authority over all proposed resolutions.

What will likely result from this little experiment will be a (formerly) complaining child who:

  • learns responsibility for his own thoughts and behavior,
  • gains control over thoughtless outbursts of discontent, 
  • develops the ability to wait until issues can be dealt with properly and at an acceptable time,
  • no longer succeeds in avoiding work or other things he does not want to do by complaining,
  • learns to be selective about the things he allows to bother him, and
  • ultimately moves away from this mode of dealing with life's frustrations.

As a Christian educator, you have every opportunity to help "Johnny" and all your children grow in contentment as well as the ability to be a problem solver rather than a problem maker. As a result, your classroom and/or family atmosphere will more than likely improve along the way.

If not... well, there's always the Complaint Department. ;)

*In the case of more than one "Johnny", responsibility for the Complaint Department can rotate.

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