Top 5 Behaviors That Cause Parents to Lose Their Cool: #2 Whining

(and How to Fix Them)

By Rebecca Eanes

The countdown continues to the top behavior that makes parents want to scream. So far, I've covered numbers 5 through 3 on the list: Back talk, tantrums, and not listening. Coming in as the second most frustrating behavior is whining.

Some parents view whining as a different voice a child uses when she is wanting something. Others mean incessant asking for whatever the child wants after they've been told no. Both types of whining can certainly grate on a parent's nerves, so let's address each one separately.

Whining in which a child uses a different voice is actually a more mature form of crying. Scientists have found that our brains are hard-wired to respond to the sounds of a baby's cries (in fact, our emotion centers in our brains light up in about 100 milliseconds after we hear the cry), and whining is just a step up from that. It still provokes a visceral reaction that urges us to take action to make it stop. Only now we don't see a helpless baby; we are generally perceiving a child trying to manipulate us, because isn't that what we've been told for ages? You've noticed by now that I talk a lot about perception, and that's because how we perceive our children is key in how we interact with them. If we can switch from the idea of manipulation to seeing a small human trying to get needs met, then we can come to this situation in a calmer state and do a better job of teaching.

Many experts recommend simply ignoring the child when he whines, but as I discussed in the tantrum article, ignoring the people we are close to does nothing positive for our relationship. So what are some concrete steps you can take when your child is whining?

Listen. Often, children just want to feel heard and understood. Show empathy for when the child's upset. This can be hard to do when our brain is screaming “make it stop!” However, the more we practice empathy, the easier it becomes.

Look for the reason behind the behavior. Children may whine for all sorts of reasons, and their whining may actually be a cry for connection or help. It may simply be a release of pent-up emotions or maybe she's tired or overwhelmed or hungry. Meet the need behind the behavior if you can discern what it is, and the behavior will cease.

Provide lots of preemptive cuddles and laughter. Did you know that laughing releases the same bad built-up feelings as crying? Spending some time every day giggling and connecting will lessen whining.

Okay, so your child is a bit older, and you suspect she is whining simply because she thinks you'll give in to her requests if she nags you. Here are some tips to nip that type of whining and empower your child with better communicative skills.

Teach your child the difference between a strong voice and a whiny voice. She may not even be aware that she is using a whiny voice. You can do this through play with puppets or toys to show her the difference. When she begins to use the whiny voice, tell her to please use her strong voice.

Give him some control. Some children whine because they feel powerless. Make sure your child knows he is a valuable part of the family and give him choices throughout the day so that he feels he has some control over his daily life.

Teach negotiating skills. This will alleviate the feeling of powerlessness that triggers whining while also teaching your child an important skill.  Teach him to state his needs and wants in a respectful manner and how to work to find solutions that will satisfy everyone's needs. If she wants to go to the park, but you have dinner to cook, then you may negotiate that she helps you with dinner and you will take her to the park afterward. If your child knows you will listen and take her needs and wants seriously, she will feel more important and connected and the need to whine about things will dissipate.

Don't give in. Once you have established that you will take your child's requests into consideration seriously, then you've also established that no means no. I tell my children “I will always say yes when I can, but when I say no, I mean no.” If they ask again, I simply say, “You've already asked me, and I've already answered.” When they realize that will be the consistent response, the whining stops.

Rebecca Eanes is the author of The Newbie's Guide to Positive Parenting and co-author of Positive Parenting in Action: The How-To Guide for Putting Positive Parenting Principles into Action in Early Childhood. She is the founder of and creator of the Facebook community Positive Parenting: Toddlers and Beyond. ??Through her Facebook community and website, Rebecca reaches thousands of parents daily with the message that connection trumps coercion and love is most powerful motivator. She does not claim to be a parenting "expert" but writes parent-to-parent with the hope of inspiring others to create peaceful homes through positive parenting.

She is the grateful mother of two boys.

Posted on Sep 11, 2014

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