How to deal with a whining child
Whining may be the most annoying sound in the world. If we are not in the right mindset for dealing with our children’s frustrations (or helping them deal with them), whining can easily lead to frustration, outbursts and even anger – by parents, not kids! While all of these responses are understandable, none are helpful for our children.
Why do kids whine?
Depending on the day, some children seem willing to whine at the slightest provocation. Often we feel that there is no reason at all for it. But if we look hard enough, and compassionately enough, we will see that there is almost always a reason for our children’s whiny behaviour – even if we don’t see it as a particularly good one.
Often young children may whine because they are hungry, tired, alone or stressed. Older kids are known to whine as well. They whine because ‘it’s not fair’. They whine because they don’t want to tidy up. Big kids also whine for the same reasons as little kids: they are hungry, tired, alone or stressed. The whine changes from the whimpering and the quivering lip of toddlers to the teenage whiny, pouty stomp.
(Some kids whine for another reason – their parents have taught them. Our whining and complaining must get pretty tiresome for our children. We are consistently at them to tidy up, put things away, help out … All that whining would be enough to make anyone whine! But I digress …)
How to deal with whining
The most common school of thought is that if we want our children to stop whining, we need to tell them to ‘harden up’ or ‘get over it’. Other parents might suggest bribes to motivate their children, or try distraction to help them forget why they were whining.
While each of these strategies can help stop the whining, I’m not convinced that tough love, bribes or distraction are the best answer.
Each of the common approaches to whining is built upon us achieving the outcome that we want. Each approach fails to effectively take the perspective of our child and understand him or her.
Rather than relying on force, power and higher mental ability to deal with whining, I suggest an alternative approach.
An alternative approach to whining
On the occasion that our child is whining, our ability to stay calm is key.
Next, we might ask ourselves, “What has occurred in my child’s life today that might explain this reaction? Is she a bad girl trying to torment me? Or is she merely tired, hungry, anxious or overwhelmed right now and needing some extra comfort and compassion from me?”
If we want to get rid of whining we need to stop everything and attend to our child. When we give them attention and take their perspective we usually find that there is a perfectly good explanation for the whining. It may not be perfect to us, but it will be to our child.
- recognise that our child is emotional,
- tell our child that we understand,
- help identify the emotion our child is feeling,
- allow our child to express that emotion safely with us
- help them to feel secure so they can regulate their emotions
… we will invariably find that the whining will stop within a few short minutes.
We can work with our children’s emotions until they have them under control, and then invite them to take the next steps to do whatever needs to be done (sometimes with a bit of help from us).
Tough love might bury whining underneath an increasingly hardened exterior, but this approach teaches our children that their feelings don’t count, so they should hide them. Those feelings, however, persist.
An understanding and empathic approach doesn’t mean lowering our own expectations of our children. It doesn’t mean they can get away with anything and everything. It simply means that we take time to understand and support them.
The counter-intuitive outcome of this approach is that when our children feel our love and support, they are then open to us guiding them and inviting them to learn and grow, or to help and contribute
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This article was written by Dr Justin Coulson for Kidspot.com.au and has been adapted for Kidspot.co.nz