A Child with a Half-Empty Glass: Supporting a Child Who Never Seems Content

One of my children always has a half-empty glass. Goodness me, I try to keep an eye on it, to fill it as it empties, to be aware of when we are getting to the halfway point. But to me it always seems to be at least half full.

This child knows how to complain. Each day he asks, “What are we doing today?” My answers could include, “home ed sports group!” Or, “a walk to the lakes to feed the ducks!” Or even, “we’re meeting up with your best friend!” Every one of these (in my opinion) fabulous plans will invariably be met with, “Oh. Is that it?” Today, when he found out that we were meeting his best friend at the lakes (a nice conjunction of two great plans), he cried. “But I want him to come to our house!”

I never seem to be able to get things quite right.

Later I joked that I could tell my child that we would be taking a rocket ship to the moon, and he would find something to complain about.

Then there was the time I made a delicious risotto, and upon putting it down in front of him, he announced that it looked like vomit (I admit it did look a bit dodgy). Or the time he asked for chocolate and I bought the wrong kind (dude, it’s still chocolate!). Or when I packed the wrong underpants when we went camping (the scratchy ones) so he just went without all weekend.

Given that it took me nearly as long to pay for my education as it has for me to pay my mortgage, you would think that my hit rate would be slightly better. But no, I seem to repeatedly fail at being able to live up to my child’s expectations. I must have slept through that class.

Through all of my child’s disappointments and complaints, I have gradually come to understand that, in spite of my frustration about his attitude, what he really needs is quite a lot of encouragement to see things differently. As my friend Amy recently wrote, “I do not knit for tyrants.” Similarly, I do not continue to make delicious risotto for critics. Politeness and consideration cost nothing, so even if he is unhappy, my bottom line is that I be treated with kindness. That said, it’s not immediately obvious to him as to how to express himself without simultaneously hurting my feelings, so I am trying to help him. Tact and subtlety are skills many adults have not yet honed—my child is only five, so I’m cutting him a huge amount of slack (he would say not enough), and hoping that being clear about what I need will help him to see, well, that I have needs too.

When I first noticed how much he complains, I felt intensely frustrated. I felt as though a sea monster had wrapped its unrelenting tentacles around my ankle and was gradually pulling me under. As with anything, once I realised that he was complaining so much, I noticed it all the time. Although that made things temporarily worse, in the end it made me feel deeply sad for my child. How hard it must be to live a life so focussed on not-enough. I have committed myself to helping my child to see abundance in our lives, to give generously of my patience, and to see the funny side of his Eeyore nature… and to help him see it too.

I am trying in my heart to free him from the label I have given him. I’m trying to notice when he says “thank you” or “this is brilliant!” I cherish his tiny-toothed smiles and the way his eyes crinkle when he’s pleased. I’m taking note of those times when his glass is miraculously half full. I’m letting go of the comments about my cooking. I’m modeling cheerfulness and simply saying, “mmmm. This is delicious!” (Even if it does look dodgy.)

It’s a work in progress.