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Dr. Ken Shore's
Classroom Problem Solver

Dealing With
Chronic Complainers

Some students seem to find fault with almost everything. They gripe about the amount of homework, the food in the lunchroom, their seat in the classroom, and the comments of other students. For those chronic complainers, not much seems to be going right. Their cup is decidedly half-empty rather than half-full.

Although you want to discourage those students from complaining as a way of seeking attention, you do not want to discourage them from voicing legitimate grievances or concerns. Nothing is inherently wrong with a student lodging a complaint. Indeed, you want your students to let you know if they are unhappy with some aspect of the classroom. Their complaints might even help by prompting you to modify a classroom activity or practice.


Encourage the student to look on the bright side. In response to a complaint, try redirecting her attention to something positive about the situation. For example, if she complains about the food in school, you might ask her to name her three favorite cafeteria meals.

Talk privately with the student. Let her know that the two of you need to work together to help her learn to complain less frequently. Inform her that she is allowed to come to you with concerns, but she needs to make sure it's a problem that is really bothering her and a problem you can do something about. Help her understand that if she complains too often, adults might not take her concerns seriously and classmates might start avoiding her.

Praise the student when she makes an effort to solve a problem. Just as you want to ignore her when she's complaining unceasingly, you want to praise her when she's trying to solve a problem rather than complaining about it.

Look for patterns. Observing when she complains and whom she complains to might tell you why she's complaining so often. If she's griping frequently to her peers, that might be her way of gaining status with them. If, on the other hand, she complains mostly to you and your response is to listen and comfort, that might be her way of gaining your attention.

Establish a complaint quota. If you have a student who is a relentless complainer, tell her that she's limited to two or three complaints per day. Let her know that you will respond to those complaints, but not to any others, so she'll need to think carefully before making a complaint. Try to stick to the plan, although, of course, you will not want to ignore serious complaints even if she has exceeded her quota.

Signal the student when she complains. Chronically complaining students might not be aware of how frequently they make negative comments. Set up a private non-verbal signal with the student that you can use in class to alert her when she is complaining and to help her become more aware of her behavior.

Tell the student to write down her complaint and put it in the classroom complaint box. Make sure all your students know about the procedure. Tell them that if they are unhappy about some aspect of the class, they should write it down, sign it, and put it in the box. Encourage them to suggest a solution for the problem. The box will help minimize disruptions to your lessons and allow students to voice concerns they are not comfortable expressing to you in person. Make it clear to students that they can see you in person if there is a problem that needs your immediate attention.

Monitor the student's complaints. Keep track of the number of times she complains each day. Use the results to demonstrate to her how often she complains and to determine if she is making progress in decreasing the behavior. If she's old enough, you might have her monitor her own behavior by having her record on a 3 x 5 card each time you signal her that she has made a complaint. That act of self-monitoring will make her more aware of the behavior and less likely to do it.

About Ken Shore

Dr. Kenneth Shore is a psychologist who has worked in various public schools for more than 25 years. He has authored six books and produced a book and video series on bullying for schools and parent organizations called The ABCs of Bullying Prevention. Click to read a complete bio. For information on how to obtain his books and videos, go to his Web site.