Does hearing your child whine annoy you or stress you out? Well, children don’t whine just to bug us, really they are trying to ask for help or they are unable to fully express what they need.
Often, asking children to “quit the whining” or “Shush down” can actually increase their frustration and lead to a tantrum.
So what helps? These are six positive ways that can stop, prevent and reduce whining:
1. Understanding: If a child is whining when trying something new, it could mean he is feeling scared or anxious. If the whine is coming close to nap or bed time, it’s likely just tiredness. If a child is routinely whining over the same tasks, she could be feeling powerless or overwhelmed. Children also whine as a means to get their needs met, in other words, when they need help or attention and are having a hard time expressing themselves. Knowing the reason a child is whining can help choose the best strategy to deal and move forward.
We watched a movie as a family over the weekend and my four year old kept whining and asking us to turn the movie off. Realizing he was probably scared because some very cute animals were in distress, I offered to move seats so he could be closer to me. The whining ceased and we finished the movie with no more interruptions.
2. Focus beyond the whine: Instead of focusing on the feeling I get when I hear the whining, for example getting annoyed or angry, I try to focus on my child and the task at hand. I often find myself taking a few deep breaths and then imagine the whining disappearing so I can just tune in only what needs to get done. It can be really difficult at first and might not always work, but being conscious of how I feel when the whining is going on also helps me better curb my reactions and makes me less likely to over-react.
3. Be firm and kind: Recently my five year old wanted a magazine from the newsstand because it had a cool toy attached to it. “Can I have that magazine?” he asked. “Do you remember what we decided about those?” I asked back. “They are bad quality, break and then I get mad.” He replied. “But pleeeeeease, mom, please, really, I want that one.” He continued. “C’mom, mom, pleease.” I was determined to stick to our agreement so I asked “What was our deal again? “Crap quality, I know, I know, nevermind.” He replied. Looking my son in the eye and with a gentle voice I added “I know that toy looks really cool. Maybe we can find a better quality one and you can add it to your wish list for your birthday.” My son wasn’t thrilled but the whining was over and we went on to finish our shopping trip. The more I stick to the limits we have previously set, the easier it is for both of us to have these conversations and get over the whining.
4. Find a solution: When whining is happening at the same time every day or over the same issue, examining the situation and finding a solution can be very helpful. My daughter used to drop the soap in the sink when washing her hands. Sometimes, unable to get the soap back out of the sink, she would start a high pitch whine. After noticing that this problem was not going to get any easier because it was just too frustrating for a 20 month old to understand the soap was very slippery, we got her a child friendly soap pump that she can operate on her own now and the whining is gone.
5. Adjust expectations: Tommy at age 4 was dawdling around in the morning, taking a long time to get dressed. There was always an issue, said his mother, the shirt was wrinkly, the pants were too hard to button, the socks were not fitting over his feet. The morning whine went on and on and spilled over to the breakfast table where the milk was too heavy to pour out alone, the toast too hot and so on… Tommy had a new sibling and mom, who was very busy with a newborn, forgot that Tommy at age 4 still might need help and encouragement with certain tasks. Tommy’s mother and I brainstormed possibilities and agreed that maybe expectations needed to be adjusted. Tommy’s mother started helping Tommy pick out an outfit the evening before and place it in the baby’s room so Tommy could dress close to mom and baby and get help right away with those tricky buttons or socks, eliminating the need to sit and whine while hoping for some attention from mom. The family also made sure to go back to having special time every day with Tommy when baby was napping. The extra time and closeness to mom in the morning routine helped Tommy feel more connected and less likely to whine when he needed help or was feeling pushed aside.
6. Play the whine away: Using play and laughter with preschoolers can be a very effective way to reconnect and erase the whine. When my middle child was 3 years old, at the end of the day, getting into pajamas seemed like the most difficult task in the universe. Sitting on the floor he would hold his jammie pants, pout and start a quiet whine “this is too complitated for me” that would grow louder and louder. One evening I made a puppet using his pajamas and said with a silly voice “c’mon, c’mon, Nicolas, you know you want to get these jammies on!” The giant smile at this silly puppet and voice was priceless. Next he asked “Can you say that about my jammie shirt?” So I did, and for a few days, he would ask for a quick jammie puppet, which he then started doing all by himself and the whining was no longer an issue.
Don’t worry, contrary to the popular advice of ignoring whining, responding in these cases is not going to spoil your child or perpetuate the whining – really, the sooner you can respond and help your child move beyond the whine and onto addressing the real issue at hand the better. You don’t have to give in to the whine, but rather get to the real issue and meet your child’s need. This not only stops the whine, it also builds trust and strengthens your connection!
Peace & Be Well,
Parts of this post originally appeared at Positive Parents: Toddlers & Beyond.