I want a cookie.
I don’t want to take a nap.
I don’t like my dinner. I want jellybeans instead.
No, I don’t want to go home. I want to stay at the park!
If you’re lucky enough to be the mother of a toddler you’ve probably heard one or more of these complaints before. Possibly within the last five minutes. A one-and-done complaint is pretty easy to handle but when normal toddler chatter suddenly becomes a full on whine-fest things can quickly go from fine to infuriating. Trust me, I know all about whining kids. I’ve learned a lot while dealing with my own whiney little ‘threenager,’ thanks to tips from brave mamas who came before me and plenty of trial and error. While I’m no expert, I have had some success worth pulling from to share with my fellow mamas today!
One of the most important part of dealing with, and eventually stopping, whining kids is to understand why it is happening. Toddlers have incredibly strong reactions to feeling out of control or overwhelmed. The fact that they have yet to develop the skills needed to manage their emotions properly makes them ticking time bombs for meltdowns. In other words, Suzie doesn’t get what she wants, Suzie doesn’t understand why she doesn’t get what she wants, Suzie whines. As parents we are tasked with figuring out the root of our child’s whining so we can help them focus that negative energy toward something positive and productive. So when your child hops on the whining kids train, take a moment to look at how your day has gone thus far and think about the basics. Is she hungry? Is he sleepy? Are they in need of some one-on-one time with you? Could she just use a good cry? Once you figure out why your child is whining, you can take the next step to meeting their needs without feeding into negative behavior.
Lawrence Cohen, author of Playful Parenting, gives one of the best explanations of whining kids and how to handle them positively while also building a closer relationships:
“When children whine they are feeling powerless. If we scold them for whining or refuse to listen to them we increase their feelings of powerlessness. If we give in so they will stop whining, we reward that powerlessness. But if we relaxedly, playfully, invite them to use a strong voice, we increase their sense of confidence and competence. And we find a bridge back to close connection.”
Lets break this down to fully grasp the need for positivity in whine maintenance.
Why ignoring it doesn’t work
If you see whining as what it is at the root, a negative emotional response, you can also see that it isn’t something that should be ignored. Ignoring tells your child, “I don’t care” which can lead to an even greater emotional breakdown. I know what you’re thinking. “If I acknowledge the whining, am I giving in to it?” No, you are not giving in when your acknowledgement teaches a more appropriate way of communicating. Say something like, “I don’t understand you when you whine like that. We can talk when you stop this negative behavior and choose to use your normal voice.” Then wait for their tone to shift. Also remember that your child may not understand what whining is yet so demonstrating what it sounds like and how it’s different from a normal speaking voice may be a necessary part of the process. They will learn the difference and it might even make them laugh, diffusing the tension for you both.
Why “giving in” doesn’t work
When you are faced with direct opposition from your child, giving in to his/her wants only encourages the negative behavior. When addressing the reason for your child’s need to whine, you aren’t giving in to the whine itself, but solving the underlying problem. So if your son approaches you complaining and pouting that he wants a cookie and you realize that it’s already past your normal lunchtime, you can say something like, “I’m sure you’re hungry right now but I just don’t understand you when you whine. We will get some lunch but you need to speak to me in your normal voice before we do anything.” You are acknowledging his feeling of powerlessness, identifying the root of the problem, and insisting that he won’t get anything if he doesn’t communicate appropriately.
Why inviting strength increases confidence
One of my favorite tactics when trying to redirect my daughter’s whining is to create a scenario where she has control. If she’s particularly fussy close to nap time and on a non-stop “I don’t want to take a nap” kick, I first follow the previous tips of acknowledging she’s upset, insisting that she use her normal voice instead of her whiney one, and then I shift things by giving her control of some parts of naptime. Which book are we going to read? Do you want the window blinds up or down? Are we going to sing a song or listen to your music box? By making things fun and letting her choose, I’m eliminating that sense of powerlessness and teaching her that she doesn’t need to whine to get what she wants.
It’s no secret that whining can be one of the most obnoxious parts of the toddler years, as your child is still learning how to appropriately communicate his or her wants and needs. Thankfully as the years go on, that disconnect narrows and dealing with whining becomes a two-sided conversation rather than a lecture to a brick wall. In the mean time, we moms have to crank up our patience levels and try not to lose our minds amidst all the “Mommy, mommy, mommy, mommy…” Listen to your kids, pay attention to any schedule changes that might throw them off, choose your battles (does the color of his socks really matter?), and reward the whine-free moments with kisses, hugs, and maybe even a treat.
Now it’s your turn. How do you deal with whining kids? Are you the strong, calm type or do you turn to your own wine (Riesling please!) when your kids are on a roll? Share your stories and tips in the comments!