A child whining, specifically my child whining, has got to be the most torturous sound I can imagine. I’d rather be trapped in a car with the alarm going off, or locked in an Urban Outfitters dressing room with that monotonous techno music they play pulsing at full blast… Maybe that’s because whining is not only earsplitting — it makes me feel intensely pressured to do something, to fix something NOW. (I know, enough whining about whining.)
Getting our attention and unnerving us is what whining is supposed to do. If it’s any consolation, just about every child goes through a whining phase (or two) at some point, and it’s not indicative of a fatal flaw in our child or our parenting. Here’s how to help toddlers get what they need in a manner that’s easier on the ears and nerves…
1. Don’t let it rattle you
Some say to ignore behaviors like whining, but since that might be misinterpreted as deliberately turning away and ignoring the child’s existence, I believe in staying present and available, just disengaging from the whine. Imagine yourself wearing an annoyance filter (an invention that could make billions, I’m sure). Take a deep breath and remind yourself that your child’s behavior is perfectly normal, but that you don’t want to encourage it. If we grant our child’s request to appease the whining, or react negatively, we might do just that.
2. Gentle guidance
Calmly and nonjudgmentally say something like “It sounds like you’re uncomfortable, but it’s hard for me to understand you. Can you tell me in your normal voice?” If the whining continues, return to whatever you might have been doing and then after a moment try again. Or, you might ask the child some questions about what he wants while reminding him to please answer in his normal voice.
3. Rest, food, drink, comfort
Whiners aren’t functioning at their best, often as the result of not enough of these things. Remember, your toddlers are growing rapidly, tire easily, and have low blood sugar attacks before they realize they’re hungry. They’re also sprouting two year molars, which is bound to create discomfort (and also interfere with sleep).
4. Whiners might be on the verge of an emotional explosion
Whining can be a sign that strong feelings of frustration, disappointment, sadness and anger need to be expressed. If these feelings appear, welcome them, allow the feelings to run their course completely (in that moment and as a general rule) and the whining will likely cease.
5. Give undivided, positive attention
Even newborn babies know whether or not they have our full attention, and a day’s worth of half-attention doesn’t fulfill our child’s needs. As Magda Gerber writes in Your Self-Confident Baby, our children need to periodically receive the message “You are important. You are number one right now.”
Magda encouraged parents to take advantage of feeding, bathing, diapering and dressing as natural opportunities for one-on-one attention. She also recommended periods of “wants nothing” quality time, time when we allow our child to be the initiator of activities while we observe, support, respond and participate as the child requests.
Unfortunately, no matter how much attention we give our children, they’ll still try out whining when we aren’t observing and listening to them. But if they don’t get encouraging results, this too shall pass.
For additional support, here’s a podcast that might be helpful:
Parents, teachers and caregivers, feel free to whine all you want here in the comments…
I share a complete guide to toddler behavior and respectful discipline in
No Bad Kids: Toddler Discipline Without Shame
(Photo by StarMama on Flickr)