Dear Polly: One of the children in our 4-year-old class, Gloria, is touchy and grouchy. Every day I spend much of my time and energy dealing with her complaints. She always says things aren't fair. Do you have any suggestions on how I can handle this?

I feel strongly that every teacher should show respect for every child, so I would listen to the complaint. And even though this child is a chronic complainer, consider whether, in some instances, she might have a point. If so, I would welcome her suggestions. After that, I would busy myself with other things. (Gloria can learn that adults listen to her and respond when she says something once; they do not give her attention when she keeps on complaining.)

If Gloria is giving other children trouble or having trouble with them, enlist those involved in solving the problem. ("What should we do about the problem Gloria brought up?" or "Gloria, that's a good idea. Let's all try that!")

Build a Team

By sharing insights with parents and working as a team, you can more effectively help children who have behavior problems. Not infrequently, there's a fundamental issue in the life of a chronic complainer that feels unfair or burdensome to her. Work with parents to determine what such an issue might be. Does Gloria have a learning challenge or other type of challenge that makes her feel inadequate? Does she believe that a sibling is preferred over her, or is struggling to accept the fact that she was adopted? Are there issues at home that are concerning her? If so, all the ceaseless complaining may represent the real issue, which the child doesn't know how to express. Be tactful and gentle with parents! Work as a team to find the root of the problem.

Gloria may be looking for opportunities to control others and take more control of her daily experiences. I would make sure to consult her, give her choices, and let her make appropriate decisions throughout the day. I would encourage her parents to do the same. What I would not do is become ensnared in her cycle of complaints. Whatever the cause of this bothersome behavior, reinforcing it by giving it lots of attention can only make matters worse.

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