The human brain’s capacity to be re-engineered and our ability to facilitate that process is truly remarkable. I am fascinated by the concept of brain optimization and longevity. Neuroplasticity – the capacity for the brain to change through growth and reorganization – is magnificent. It’s empowering when you realize we have the ability to change our brain positively or negatively through focus in combination with strong and repetitive activations. 

When children are allowed to repeatedly whine and complain, they are firing and re-firing neurons to create a negative pattern of behavior. Complaining creates a narrative where the complainer is the victim and the focus is their helplessness and negative circumstance. If left untrained, this can easily become their default. 

Since our brain spends more than 50% of the time in default mode, we need to be extra diligent in fine tuning our modus operandi. As a teacher, I knew repetition was the mother of all learning, so I developed a plan for using it to combat my nemesis, chronic complaining. 

“Do all things without complaining or arguments” – Philippians 2:14 

In our house, the whiteboard wall in the kitchen served as a hub for all important family information. I carved out a corner for my kids’ complaints. 

When they were very young and came to me with their grievances, I would write it out on the board, help them brainstorm possible solutions, and determine the next steps. 

Brother won’t share? 

Yes, you could punch him, trick him into giving it to you, wait until he’s done with it, find something more fun to do, etc. 

At times it was also necessary to identify the consequences and viability of each decision. 

You could get in trouble, he’s bigger than you, he will hit you back, etc.  

Sometimes while brainstorming they would come up with product or business ideas. 

Problem: It’s not fair that I’m not allowed to drive at 7 years old.

Solution: I could put rockets on skates and get where I’m going just as fast. 

Product/Business Idea: Develop skates with rockets and make millions. 

Editor’s note: To this day, “rockets on skates” is still our catch phrase for unrealistic solutions born from a brainstorming session. 

As they grew older, they were more selective about the complaints and began to contribute more complex solutions. For entertainment they would actively look for more complicated multifaceted problems and obstacles to tackle. You could almost watch their problem solving muscle grow. 

Even if the solution was out of their control, I began to see how it had the power to rewire their brain. Every problem almost instantaneously came with a list of solutions. Obstacles became a trigger for ideas. Resourcefulness became normal and replaced fear when they were faced with seemingly insurmountable problems. 

As they became better at finding solutions, they became more confident in taking action. Situations that would typically cause anxiety or depression were energizing and catalysts for creating different outcomes.

In this exercise to combat whining and complaining, I discovered something so powerfully encouraging. 

Who you are and what you’re capable of is never definitive. The possibilities are endless.