It happens in the blink of an eye: one second I’m being asked a question to which I’ve had to answer “no”, and the next second I’m being subjected to one of the most exhausting sounds a parent can hear.
What is that noise, a suffering animal? What kind of creature is making that pathetic and utterly aggravating sound?
Oh that’s right; it’s my beloved and (most times) fantastically adorable child. I wouldn’t believe any child of mine capable of such an assault on my ears except that I hear it almost daily from the time they’re able to vocally communicate until the time they realize that type of communication is not effective.
The time it takes for them to learn this most valuable lesson I’ve discovered, is largely up to me.
We Set the Tone for Communication
See, I think one great parenting myth we all create for ourselves and each other is the myth that says every child goes through a whining “phase”, and no matter what we say or do, it has to just run its course.
I do believe that every child will try whining to get what they want; it’s only natural. They try lots of different behaviors in order to discover which methods of getting what they want are the most effective, appropriate, and expend the least amount of energy.
What I don’t believe is the assumption that they’ll whine for a while, but give it up in the end as they grow up and learn to speak like a big person.
I find the most whining goes on in our house when I have succumbed to either one or both of these two poor parenting techniques:
- Acknowledging the whine as an acceptable form of communication and/ or giving them what they want when they use it.
- Using that form of communication myself.
Setting Clear Expectations
When our kids try whining as a form of communication we all know how well it works when we say (or yell), “DON’T WHINE!”
First of all, they know we can’t enforce a command like that; they have control over their tone and attitude, so why even enter that losing battle?
Also, a command won’t help them form a habit, they need their own thoughts for that, and what have we stooped to? Now we’re trying to teach them not to use one form of inappropriate communication by using another.
Far better to set our expectations in a calm tone, then stick with them. If our expectation is that they communicate with no whining we could say, “I’d be happy to talk to you about this when you’re using a big kid voice.” If you think they don’t know what a big kid voice sounds like, model it for them, and contrast it with a whiny voice.
Make it light and fun so they know it’s no big thing, they just need to choose a different tone. If they’re older you might try, “I’m happy to talk with you when you’re voice is pleasant like mine.” Note—you might want to make sure your voice IS pleasant before saying that.
Use Few Words, Big Actions
Not giving in when they use a whiney voice is a BIG ACTION. Allowing them to make up for it is another.
The CD, Love and Logic Magic When Kids Drain Your Energy, describes a powerful consequence we can apply when we’re having trouble thinking of a good one. It involves having our kids do helpful things that re-charge our energy when it’s been drained through misbehavior.
Monkey See, Monkey Do
It came as a total surprise to me when I realized that I was actually whining at my kids.
It sounded like this: (pouty face and voice) “Guys, come on, I’ve asked you 3 times now to please pick up your things, we have company coming!”
Any number of words could be used here; it’s the tone and facial expression that defines it as a whine. I bring this up because we have to understand that when we whine expecting positive results, our children will too! And so I discovered if I smile and control my tone when asking favors or making requests of people, it will always come out much more polite and grown up.
Whining is normal, but not acceptable. Help your kids make their own decision about their tone by modeling what is acceptable to you, and not giving in to the unacceptable.
- Set clear expectations, and stick with them
- Model appropriate ways to communicate, don’t whine at them about whining, or about anything else for that matter
- Make tone modeling light and fun, don’t leave them with the feeling that THEY’RE irritating you, just that the tone is not fun to listen to
- Let them replace energy