Diana Boggia: Daughter’s complaining affects the whole family

Diana Boggia

Dear Diana,

I am the mother of two girls, ages 5 and 7. I learned many strategies that have improved our overall family life from your column.

However, we have a continuous problem with our 7-year-old, who complains about absolutely everything. She is never happy or satisfied. We’ve actually nicknamed her “Carley the Complainer.”

She merely tolerates her sister; they don’t have a good relationship. Carley seems to feel her younger sister gets more attention. Honestly, her younger sister is more enjoyable to be around, so people are naturally drawn to her.

We constantly tell her we love her, but she doesn’t seem to believe it.

Now, when Carley gets angry, she overeats and is gaining weight. Her complaints affect our whole family as we try to please her, or explain our decisions to her. I’m open to any suggestions, because what we’re doing is not working.


Carley’s Mom

Dear Carley’s Mom,

Over time you can minimize Carley’s complaints and change how she feels about things by incorporating some new strategies.

It is important to know that even an occasional reference to her nickname, “Carley the Complainer,” is unproductive, as well as damaging, because as long as she is labeled she will continue to be angry and complain, living up to her negative nickname.

Carley has learned to get your attention by complaining, which is her way of expressing that she feels things are unfair, that she feels less loved. You have said she always seems unhappy. Her unhappiness may be the root of her complaints. Complaints are her (negative) way of getting your attention.

Children thrive on our attention, negative or positive. Taking time to find out why she is unhappy may resolve many of the issues that would otherwise become complaints. Ask her questions. You need not agree with her, justify your actions or convince her to feel differently. Empower with “I’m sorry you feel that way” or “what can you do to change that?” Show how much you love her by making time for her. Structured activities that include both girls will improve their sibling relationship.

It is important to remember that a child’s perception is their reality. If she perceives and believes that her sister is better loved, then that is her reality. If she does feel less loved, simply telling her you love her will not change things. You need to find ways to make her feel your love.

If you get angry or frustrated with her complaints you will continue to get from her what you are getting now. Remember, nothing changes if nothing changes. You need to change your patterns in order to change her patterns.

When she complains, touch her gently so she knows you heard her. With kindness and empathy, tell her you’re sorry she is unhappy with the decision, and move on. Stay in control. Redirect her to another conversation or activity.

It is important not to buy into her complaints, which would train her to continue. Don’t defend. Defending invites negotiation; it leaves the door open for more. Responding to her specific complaints is not productive because it empowers her as the complainer.

Do not focus on Carley’s overeating, as that can become a power struggle with medical ramifications. Speak with your pediatrician. Remove the junk food from your home. Her emotional eating is her way to fill up those empty spaces inside. Instead, focus on filling those places with love, confidence and positive praise for all that she does well. As her self-esteem rises, her need to satisfy herself with food should diminish. Increase her physical activity without bringing attention to it. Invite her on bike rides or race her up the stairs.

You can turn her life around if you make it your focus. How lucky she is to have you for her mom.

Diana Boggia, M.Ed., is a parenting educator in Stark County, Ohio, whose column appears weekly in The Repository. Send your child-rearing questions to or The Repository, c/o Family Matters, 500 Market Ave. S, Canton OH 44702.