How to Put an END to Whining!

How to Put an END to Whining!

I know I’m not saying anything new here, but children whine. Sometimes a lot. Usually in public. Whether they are toddlers and sound like mosquitos wailing in megaphones, or third graders who use words like “pleeeeeaaaaase,” whining is terribly annoying. Which is the point. Children whine when they feel frustrated that they aren’t getting their way with us, and they whine because whining works.

Whining is wildly successful because children choose to whine at the most inconvenient times (often in public), which forces us to quickly adopt one of two solutions to bring the whining to a swift end: we either cave in to their demands (with or without the dubious disclaimer “just this one time”), or we distract by handing over an electronic device or junk food.

When we cave, we prove that whining works. When we distract, whether by offering our iPhone or a consoling candy, we teach our children to find solace from external sources, not from within. Either way, we miss out on the opportunity to help our children learn three key skills: resilience in the face of disappointment, a healthy respect for limits, and patience.

The good news is that there are ways parents can discourage whining. While easy in theory, they do require an iron will to endure days, and possibly a few weeks, of escalated whining until your child finally concludes that this tactic will no longer work with you.

Two ways to reduce whining: 

• Encourage positive behavior. Notice when your child washes the dishes unasked; manages to whisper during a visit to the library; or shakes hands and properly introduces herself to a friend of yours. “I see that you washed the dishes without my asking. What a relief! I was so tired today and your help gave me a chance to rest for a few minutes.” We tend to give negative attention for negative behavior, like yelling when our children whine. But when we give positive attention for positive behavior we can give what the child craves – parental attention – without encouraging negative behaviors.

• Discuss appropriate behavior in advance of challenging outings. If trips to the toy store usually involve some whining, explain the purpose of your trip before you go. “I need to stop at the toy store to buy a birthday gift for your cousin Sam.” Discuss consequences. “If you start begging me to buy toys for you, that will slow down my shopping, and then we might not have enough time for the bike ride we plan on doing afterwards.” Or suggest that, if there is something your child wants to buy, she could bring allowance money along to pay for it.

And what if you’re out and the whining begins, no matter how much you prepared in advance? You have a few options: 

• Ignore the behavior. This is the most obvious choice, and the one that most requires your iron will. You’ll have to ignore whining consistently during the coming weeks if you want to extinguish it. Consider your child’s persistence to be a good sign of her strong spirit and determination, then grit your teeth and remind yourself that all children have whined at some point in their lives. Ignore the stares of strangers, and soldier on.

• Leave the premises and don’t revisit the site for a while. Though it’s inconvenient, you may just have to leave the toy store and return when your child is not with you, then avoid visiting it with your child for the foreseeable future. Don’t say a word, just leave. Your silent message will speak louder than words.

• Hug your child or wrap your arm around her, reminding her of your love for her even as you say nothing about the whining. Physical touch at this moment is both loving and reassuring, and you don’t fall into the trap of opening up for discussion the coveted toy or cookie.

Parenting with the end in sight is what good parenting is all about. And whining presents us with a challenging yet invaluable opportunity to steer our children toward healthy coping skills that will benefit them into adulthood.

Rinny Yourman is a volunteer at PEP, the Parent Encouragement Program, which offers parenting classes, lectures, and consultations. For more information, visit PEPparent.org

1 Comments

One Response to How to Put an END to Whining!

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