I have raised two children and taught many more. If I had a dime for every time a child whined, I would be a wealthy woman. There is something about whining that makes our ears hurt and our skin crawl. Adults often over-react because we simply cannot stand the tone of voice. A child whines. We get upset and say a little to sharply, “Stop whining!” The whining just tends to get louder and angrier. We have further frustrated an already frustrated child. We become annoyed and frustrated ourselves. When we try to correct behavior and it continues, we need to try another way.
When a child whines and you feel those little hairs stand on end, you may have more success by consistently responding by telling your child:
- Take a deep breath. Your child is whining because he/she is upset. When we are upset, our breathing becomes shallow and our heart rate increases. The brain gets a message that something is wrong and it is harder to control our actions and reactions. Getting your child to take a deep breath will be more effective in teaching self-control than commanding the child to stop. You might want to take a deep breath to remain calmer, too!
- Try again in a calm voice. Before you get emotional and add to the drama in the room, request that your child restate the sentence calmly. I have heard many adults say, “Try that again” but they don’t say how. It is important that young children learn the definition of calm voice and how to regulate theirs. Tone regulation is a life skill that it takes time to learn. You need to be sure your voice is calm as their example.
- You will respond when the whining is over. If you respond to the whining by giving in or even by arguing, the child gets a payoff. When behavior pays off, children will do it again and again. Do not reply positively or negatively until your child speaks to you in a more appropriate tone. Until then, keep trying to calm your child and remind him/her to speak calmly. As soon as your child’s tone improves, then respond to the original dilemma.
In the meantime, you have a puzzle to solve. Children often cannot accurately express their feelings so they communicate through behavior. Tantrums are a form of communication. Crying and stamping are a form of communication. Whining is communication, too. Try to determine:
- If a prior event has fueled the mood: Adults recognize that in our own lives, a tough morning can lead to a snowball effect of an ongoing bad day. We forget that the same can happen to children. If something happened earlier in the day, the whining can actually be about that pent up sadness or anger. When whining persists, you probably haven’t hit upon the real problem. Ask about the day to see if your child reacts to a broader conversation than about what is going on at this moment.
- If feeling physically depleted is fueling the mood: When a child is tired or feeling ill, some whining is to be expected. Children have a hard time coping with physical symptoms. Remember how you feel when you are extremely tired or when you feel achy. You might not whine because you have learned the boundaries of socially acceptable behavior for adults but you probably want to complain and whine.
Above all else, try your best to remain emotionally neutral. Yelling and throwing your hands in the air does not help. Be the example of coping with upset. If your child’s tone is upsetting, let your child see that though you are not happy, you aren’t going to lose all control. Children become how we behave. Behave with kindness and empathy.
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