Whining can drain the energy from even the most patient mother. In our house, it’s the five o’clock hour each evening. Like clockwork.
I usually find myself in the kitchen piecing together a meal that will magically meet the nutritional needs and taste preferences of children and adults alike. Simultaneously, my children find this to be an opportune time to exercise their vocal range and refine their nonconformist negotiation strategies.
And by that I mean, it’s time for whining.
As parents, we know there is nothing quite like the sweet sound of a small child’s voice. Whether she is just learning how to speak or he is fine-tuning his conversational skills. We relish in the burgeoning ability to communicate.
That is, until we get hit with a case of the whines—not to be confused with a case of wines (which might feel like the obvious solution to this cringe-worthy phenomenon).
Whining is a form of communication. Children use whining in an attempt to get their needs met. Sometimes these needs are straightforward, like “I want to wear my purple dress for the 5th day in a row.” Other times, whining is a camouflaged way of communicating less obvious needs like attention, hunger, and sleepiness.
When communication in your house takes a turn for the whines, you need to have some tools to reign it back in.
Here are five ways to gently manage it:
1. Give hugs freely.
Whining makes me want to scream at my kids, but instead I choose to hug them. Because as mothers, we need to be the thermostat rather than the thermometer. That means we have to set the temperature in our home, rather than react to it. By choosing to hug my kids instead of scream, my whole demeanor changes. I soften and relax. As a result my kids do too.
Don’t be afraid to hug. Instead of setting the thermostat to cold and angry, choose to set it to warm and calm.
Pause for a moment of self-reflection: How often do your children hear you whining?
Your whining may be setting a precedent for this behavior in your home. So if you find yourself whining about all the whining in your house, dial it back.
3. Teach gratitude.
We ran out of milk (again). Cue the whining—my kid likes milk with her dinner. So we don’t have milk, but we do have clean, fresh water. If she’s feeling lucky, I might even squeeze a little lemon in there. Life isn’t about what we don’t have, it’s all about seeing the beauty of what is right in front of us.
How can we model gratitude for our children?
4. Role play it.
When it comes to changing behavior in young children, we need to focus on teaching. That means skip the requests to “stop whining” and replace them with constructive, concrete examples of what to do instead.
When kids whine, give them an example of how to use proper language and tone to communicate effectively.To learn how to communicate better, we must give our children the skills.
5. Acknowledge without enabling.
Whining can be a cry for attention, sleep or hunger—and our kids need to be heard. So it’s important that we acknowledge and tune into these words and feelings. Yet we need to refrain from trying to right all the wrongs in their little worlds.
My go-to for this is to get down at kid-level to make eye contact, then use the words, “I hear you, it sounds like that makes you really bummed out.” Then we move on.
We might do a quick role play and practice a better way to communicate, or lay on a heavy dose of hugs and gratitude. And if it’s sleep or food that they need, it’s my job to help make that happen. Even if they can’t communicate the need for it.
So if you are dealing with a case of the whines, know that you are in good company. As parents, when we want to cut back on whining, we need to lead by example. That means reflecting on our own words along with practicing a better way to communicate with our kids.