Four Ways to Deal with Whining Children
I have to say, my daughter, Avery, is already somewhat of an overachiever. She always runs when she could walk, she routinely gobbles down her dinner so she can finish before everyone else at the table, and she insists on climbing higher than all the kids on the jungle gym (luckily, I have a strong stomach). But I'd be remiss not to include this less-than-desirable distinction: Avery is also a world-class whiner, griping at a jaw-dropping pitch for such lengths that she can easily outdo any other 4-year-old in a single squawk session.
Avery's impassioned approach to life is refreshing, but her overzealous whining? Not so much. Whether she's begging for a brownie or pining for a new pet, her tenacious requests try my nerves. However, my mind -- and my eardrums -- were put to rest by some expert reassurance: "Whining is totally normal," says Janeen Hayward, a licensed clinical professional counselor and founder of Swellbeing, a parenting resource in New York City. Virtually all kids become pros at the shrill mewling that serves as a desperate plea for something (usually an item they know they can't have) and yet also expresses a feeling of powerlessness that crying or talking doesn't. "Three- and 4-year- olds whine frequently because they have big expectations and desires, but don't always get their way or have the ability to do the task at hand," explains Hayward.
Sure, it's comforting to confirm that Avery is simply expressing her needs like the rest of her pals. But it's also frustrating to realize that such an annoying behavior is so incredibly effective. The second she begins howling, I usually fulfill her request no matter how outrageous it is (chocolate milk in bed!), simply to stop the noise and save my sanity. Of course, I'm only making the problem worse. "When you give in to your child's demands immediately, you're reinforcing her behavior," Hayward points out. Ready to wipe out the gripes? Use these tips to win the war on whining.
Step 1: React
Put away the earplugs and take action. "Kids can whine all day, easily outlasting a parent who is trying to tune it out," says Rene Hackney, Ph.D., a developmental psychologist in Alexandria, Virginia. "The longer you let your child complain, the more determined she'll become to get her way." Instead, help your child understand that her whining voice is very hard to listen to. You can say, "I can't understand you when you whine. If you want to tell me how you feel, then I need you to use your regular voice." Don't assume she knows what it means to whine. Demonstrate how it sounds by whining back at her, suggests Hayward. Also, take stock of whether she may be whining because she's tired or hungry. Sticking to a nap schedule and stashing a snack in your purse for outings can help prevent a major meltdown.
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