“The way we communicate with others and with ourselves ultimately determines the quality of our lives.” - Anthony Robbins
The sound of whining is one of the most irritating sounds on earth - really. A recent study confirms this, though any parent could already tell you the same. According to the research, whining has more power to distract (parents and nonparents alike) than the screech of a table saw snagged on a piece of wood!
Whining disrupted participants from doing simple cognitive tasks like subtraction. Both genders made more errors and were unable to complete tasks in a normal timeframe. Rosemarie Chang, co-author of the study, believes it’s an evolutionary mechanism. She likens whining to a siren. As unpleasant as that is, it gets your attention. You are forced to put things aside and see if anything is actually wrong.
Whining happens in every language and even adults do it to one degree or another. But thankfully the peak whine years are from 2 ½ to 4 years old. This coincides with the age children first attempt to communicate with words, and tapers off when they begin to have command of language and self expression. In other words, whining is a form of annoying communication. But it doesn’t change the fact that your children are trying to tell you something. Does that mean we should respond to every whimper? Of course not.
There is a balance between addressing your child’s real needs and redirecting unwanted behavior. Parents need a solid strategy for teaching our children good communication skills as early as possible. It will work wonders for your sanity and set your children on the road to successful communications throughout life.So here are ten tips for breaking the whine habit in your house:
1. Be consistent.
Almost any behavior is repeated if there is a payoff. Over time, repeated behavior becomes a habit. Yes, we’ve all reached the point where we’re willing to hand over the candy bar or buy a particular toy, just to make the whining stop. But if whining sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t, children will go for the “maybe payoff” loophole and whine more often. Mixed signals not only confuse the child, they also add to your workload by forcing you to address and readdress the same issues. Talk about a good reason to whine!
2. Me no speak whine.
If my children are whining, I say, “Excuse me. I can’t understand you. I don’t speak whine. That sounds like cjoaliudfsoiuewj to me. What are you saying?” Usually the next request is a bit clearer. “It sounds like you’re saying you’d like some juice, but it still sort of sounds likecixooijc.” That gets them laughing. The tension lessens and the conversation begins. “Ah! Now I understand. Of course you can have some juice. Thank you for asking so nicely.” “Use your words” is a great family code to shift a whine into a request.
3. Teach through play.
Toddlers don’t have a strong sense of self-awareness. That’s why they often don’t know they are whining. Sometimes it helps if they can see themselves through a playful medium, like a doll. Or sometimes I imitate the droning plea in a comical way, then ask “What if Mommy talked like that? What would work better?” I’ll offer a suggestion on a better way to make the request. “Now you try.” This type of playful interchange gets their attention and allows them to look at their behavior from a safe and positive vantage point.
4. Reward good attention getting.
Anytime your children are using their developing communication skills to ask for something nicely, reward them with your attention and a mention of how great it is that they communicated so beautifully. “I like how you said that.”
5. Help find the words.
Negative emotions are hard to deal with for anybody and toddlers don’t have the words to say what is upsetting them. Gently guide them through the storm with phrases like: “Are you mad because…?” As they learn the “how to” of communicating, finding the words becomes easier each time a whining moment comes up.
6. Defuse prime whine triggers.
If your child is hungry or tired, it’s hard to be reasonable. My four-year-old son, for instance, is often hungry right before dinner. He’ll ask for a fruit bar, which will spoil his appetite. That’s when the whining starts, not just because he loves fruit bars, but because he’s actually hungry. I know from experience this is not the time for an upsetting showdown. If dinner is 5 minutes away or less, I’ll say, “I know how you feel. I’m hungry too. Could you help me set the table so that we can eat?” If dinner is going to be 15 minutes or more later, I’ll offer him a less filling snack to tide him over. Goldfish crackers are perfect. They are both healthy and tiny. You can even play a counting game. “You can have five. Can you count them while Mommy stirs the pasta sauce?”
7. When the pity party starts, put on your patience.
Step back and resist the urge to shout, “Stop whining right now!” Though every parent wants to do this, especially at our breaking point, it’s a command that rarely works. It usually upsets the child more, because the real reason he/she is whining is they want something. When you are only addressing what you want - silence and a little peace, it doesn’t offer a real solution. That said, a child usually starts whining when her request has already been politely ignored. Maybe you are in the middle of a phone call, or focused on a project, or rushing through a task. She may have asked quietly a few times already, and you’ve said, “Just a minute, honey” several times too. But a minute to a child doesn’t mean much. A very small child is not a good judge of time.
If you are trying to get your child to delay her request and learn some patience herself while you finish something up, try using a timer. There are playful visual ones made especially for kids. I like the old fashioned dial kind. “Five minutes!” I say. “Here. I’ve set the dial and it is ticking. When the little bell rings, I’ll be done with what I’m doing and we can go do … xyz.” Helping your child get a handle on what patience really is, as well as understanding a bit about time, is a useful tool that will pay off over and over.
8. Nice, but No.
What if your child asks for something ridiculous in the sweetest voice? You’ll have to say no, and explain why in your most reasonable voice. “Thanks for asking so sweetly, but we can …xyz…. instead.”
9. Use “instead” commands.
Children hear around 400 commands a day! I love this advice from Parenting that Works: Instead of ordering your child, ask a question and give direction and information. For example: “Do you know what we need to do? Right! It’s time to brush our teeth! Do you know what happens when you don’t brush?” And then let your child answer. The key is to encourage your children to think and judge for themselves.
10. In a moment of calm, talk about the joys of listening:
“We have a much better time when we listen to each other, don’t we? When you ask, ‘Mommy can I please have some juice?’ isn’t it nice when I go get you the juice? I expect the same from you.”
It’s always good practice to lead by example. If kids hear their parents whining (which adults prefer to call complaining) about how long the checkout line is or how much work we have to do, they’ll imitate us. Make sure you’re modeling the communication skills you want your children to learn.
Here’s the bottom line: While you won’t be able to eradicate whining overnight - or once and for all - you can help your children learn to use more productive, less annoying, means of communication. So don’t invest in noise-cancelling headphones just yet!