Mazzy has a new game. It’s called “Annoy the Crap Out Of Mom Until She Hands Over The iPad Or Buys Me An Ice Cream Cone”. She’s incredibly good at it. Although, my husband says it’s not the kind of skill I should put on her preschool applications. If that’s the case, I need the behavior to end.
Which brings me to the return of Dr. B.
Remember our early childhood development specialist? She’s here to STOP THE WHINING with some very serious advice. Let’s hope it works.
Young children use whining in the same way that infants use crying – to communicate that they want something and they want it NOW! When children start speaking, we often expect them to use their language to communicate appropriately but talking and communicating are two different skills which typically do not develop at the same rate.
Using language to communicate needs is a learned skill that takes modeling and practice. Most children go through a phase of whining until they learn alternative ways to communicate and begin to recognize that whining is not accepted by those around them.
Some children continue to whine because it works better (or is more powerful) than more appropriate alternatives (i.e., whining leads to the parent listening and/or giving into a request that they initially denied).
For example, picture a child in a candy store who asks politely for a piece of candy and then is told “no.” The child makes the request again, “Please!” The parent stands firm on their initial decision. The child starts to whine and the whine quickly turns into a scream, “I want candy!!!” Finally, out of embarrassment, the parent says, “Which candy do you want?” It is easy to predict what the child will do the next time they want candy or anything else that the parent initially denies.
10 TIPS THAT WILL HELP YOU RESPOND TO WHINING MORE EFFECTIVELY
1) Listen and acknowledge that you have heard your child the first time. Sometimes children are simply trying to get our attention and before we know it, they realize that whining is a quick way to get it.
2) Show you heard your child’s initial request by repeating it (e.g., “You want cookies.”).
3) Do not reward the whining by giving your child anything immediately after whining. This will increase the likelihood that your child will use this behavior again in the future.
4) Teach your child to communicate his/her needs appropriately. For example, for a younger toddler, you can simply stop them from whining by approaching them at eye level and then prompt them to say, “Cookies please” before getting them the desired item. For an older toddler, you may want to teach them to follow a rule such as, “You only need to tell me one time” or to tap your arm or leg to get your attention when you are on the phone or computer. This approach will teach your child the appropriate way to communicate with you while reducing the likelihood that the whining will be maintained by unintentionally rewarding the behavior.
5) Prevent additional whining by talking to your child while they are waiting (e.g., “Wait here. I’m opening the cabinet. Where are the cookies? Oh, here they are!”).
6) If an item is off limits, explain why and then give your child other alternatives to choose from. For example, “You want candy. I liked how you asked me nicely but candy is not good for your belly. Let’s look for some healthy food for you to choose from.” For a younger child, distract them with a favorite toy or activity.
7) If your child’s whining has become a vicious cycle, expect it to get temporarily worse before it gets better when you stop giving in. Although the whining may escalate to a full-blown tantrum (and other worse behaviors) don’t let this fool you into thinking this approach isn’t working. If you give in after ignoring the behavior, you will actually strengthen the behavior and tantrums may become your child’s new “go-to” strategy to get you to give in. Instead, be consistent and stand your ground.
8) Remember that you can respond to your child’s tantrum even if you continue to deny them the thing they want. Some children benefit from having an adult help them calm down, while other children may prefer to be left alone or will react aggressively toward an adult who denied their request. Use your judgment to determine what your child may need in the moment.
9) Don’t expect a quick fix. Stopping a behavior may seem easy but learning new behaviors takes time. Don’t give up because the strategy you were trying didn’t work the first few weeks and don’t stop using a strategy as soon as it starts working. Children learn behaviors best through explicit teaching, repetition, practice, and reminders.
10) Finally, many children are more likely to whine when they are tired, hungry, or not feeling well. If you notice a pattern, be proactive by addressing the underlying problem.
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Editor’s Note: If none of these work, there is one more solution brought to you from our friends in The Netherlands. Although, I’m pretty sure if you are reading this post, it is too late.