Stop the Whining!
Nothing is more frustrating than listening to the aggravating, unnatural sound of children’s voices when they try to get what they want by whining. It’s a technique often used during the toddler years and even into elementary school.
While parents’ first reflex might be to turn a deaf ear or whine right back at them, there are tried-and-true tactics that can halt the behavior and bring the situation back to even playing level with a little practice. Local experts chime in with advice on how to handle whining, as well as information on the causes behind the behavior that leaves moms and dads shaking their heads from time to time.
Why they do it: With younger children who are still developing their language skills, whining often is a way to express their emotions. “It could be they are hungry, tired, stressed or excited,” says Donna Garcia, owner of Lake Norman Learning Center in Cornelius, mother of two and a parenting consultant.
Also with toddlers, consider that an interruption of their regular schedule or routine could be the source of the behavior. Anyone who has ever tried running errands during nap time or snack time can attest to this.
How to stop it: Garcia suggests using a series of questions to help determine what children need and to acknowledge there is a reason behind their whining. This puts words to their feelings. Many parents also teach their toddlers simple signs, such “milk,” “snack,” or “sleep,” to help them express themselves in other ways besides words, or, in this case, whining. Making sure your toddler has received adequate rest and meals throughout the day should help the situation, too.
Why they do it: While preschoolers generally are more independent than toddlers, many also struggle to find appropriate ways to express their needs and wants. They still get frustrated easily, and starting new routines, such as preschool, can help bring about the tendency to whine in order to make sure their needs are met.
“One of the main reasons children in this age group revert to whining is because they have a hard time using the right words,” says Kat Simmons, a preschool teacher at Ivybrook Academy in Waxhaw. “At this age they are trying to find ways to tell people what they need.”
How to stop it: Every situation and every child is different, says Simmons. “I tell the kids that I don’t understand whining. To ‘please use your words.’ You have to be a detective and figure out what’s behind the whining.”
Simmons also says ages 3 and 4 are the perfect time to give children appropriate tools they can use to express their needs.
Why they do it: As they get older, kids whine about things they perceive as being unfair, such as when someone else gets to be line leader at school, says Garcia. They also get tired after a long school day and have the tendency to arrive at home ready to complain and revert to immature behavior. Whining also can occur when children are faced with the prospect of starting their homework instead of playing on the Wii or taking out the trash.
How to stop it: “I tell children that I understand how they feel, but I have to make the best choice for everyone,” says Courtney Riley, a teacher at Ivybrook Academy who has experience teaching both preschool and grade-school levels. “A lot of children get in the habit of whining if it works. (But) if they feel like they are being listened to, it helps to minimize that.”
When children whine about what they perceive as unfairness, Garcia recommends giving two choices. “Say something like ‘You can pick up your toys or go sit in your room.’ If you give them choices, one being a positive thing and the other being a negative, they almost always will choose the positive act.”
Garcia also reminds parents that curbing whining in children takes constant reminders, and not to get angry the next time children start in on the whining.
In the cases of dealing with whining children in public, Riley recommends taking them to a private place to talk things out. “In a public place, such as a store, people are watching things escalate,” she says. “Take children to a place where they can calm down and talk about it. Get things back to you and them.”
As with most parenting issues, tailoring the method by which you handle whining is probably your best bet. “We pretend like we can’t understand whining,” says Tara Goodfellow, a Matthews mom of two girls, ages 3 and 5. “I say ‘I’m sorry, did someone say something? Mommy doesn’t understand whining. Please try again.’ I don’t know why, but it works.”
She adds, “We stick to it, though. If the whining continues, we don’t acknowledge it. I can’t recall many times (except when they’re really tired) that it goes on past two times.”
In my house, it’s a lot easier to reason things out with my oldest child, who is now 7. However, my 4-year-old son seems to have mastered the fine art of whining in recent months. I tell him he’ll have to give me a nickel out of his piggy bank each time he whines instead of using his regular voice. Because he treasures every cent he earns through his household chores, this has been working fairly well.
Keep trying to find the best method for your family, and don’t give up hope. As Garcia says, most children give up whining after around age 7.
Renee Roberson is a mom and freelance writer in Huntersville.