Pre-verbal children use crying to get what they need. After learning to talk, many children have trouble breaking this habit. In fact, some develop a rather complex system of sounds and gestures that sometimes includes crying, sometimes pouting, sometimes tantrums, and sometimes a loud, whiny voice. For parents, as much as we love our children, these behaviors can be infuriating, not to mention embarrassing when they happen in public.
There are many ways to deal with children who whine, but the most important thing is not to give in. When you hear that distressed voice, every instinct will make you want to do whatever you can to make your child happy. But this is one of those cases where tough love is better in the long run. By refusing to give in to your child’s whining and tantrums, you demonstrate that those are not legitimate methods for getting what we want. It may take some time, but the lesson will sink in eventually.
If merely ignoring your child’s whining has not stopped the behavior, here are some additional things you can do:
1. Acknowledge your child’s feelings. In many cases, whining is simply a way to get attention. Make sure your child knows that you appreciate her feelings and that she does not need to resort to harsh tones of voice to get your attention.
2. Learn the patterns. If there are certain things that regularly cause your child to go into a whining fit, learn to recognize the signs before it happens. For example, if your child is more likely to whine when it is near bedtime or when he has been playing with other kids, take actions to prevent the typical whining triggers that come up at these times.
3. Speak your child’s language. Express your frustration in ways that your child will understand. Use short “I” statements that describe easily identifiable feelings-for example, “I do not like it when you whine,” or “I like it better when you ask nicely for things.” Make these statements in a calm, rational voice that models how you would like your child to speak.
4. Be a model of good behavior. A child’s whining may make you feel tempted to raise your voice, but it is usually best to stay calm. There are times when a firm tone and even a loud voice are necessary to get a child to behave, but there is no need to use these routinely. Instead, demonstrate that big people communicate with calm voices.
5. Reward non-whining. When your child does a good job of avoiding whining or other harsh tactics to get what she wants, take notice, and show her that you appreciate how good she is. Sometimes a little positive reinforcement is all a child needs.
6. Try to understand. There is no call for persistent, everyday whining, but sometimes your child may have good reason for behaving this way. For example, when he is not feeling well, is very tired, or has to go to the dentist or doctor, it is understandable to get a little upset, and many kids are too young to know how to handle these situations calmly. Show concern without reinforcing the whining.
7. Use discipline. If the whining has become a serious problem, start by giving your child a warning. If that does not work, you may have to resort to your preferred method of discipline.
Lisa Pecos, a wife and well accomplished writer whom firmly believes in natural colic treatment for infants. She has authored numerous articles in Parenting Journals on the topics of toddlers, kids and teenagers.