What's the Cure for Whining? (page 2)
If we wanted to make a list of the things children do that irritate their parents, we'd find whining near the top! It's a behavior that every child tries sooner or later. Some children fall into whining and can’t seem to climb back out. By the time a parent decides to search for advice about handling whining, he is usually fed up.
When a child is whining, filling his request probably won't change his emotional climate for long. For a whining child, the inner weather is cloudy, with a storm on the horizon. Filling his request might gain a parent a few moments of peace, but the child’s overall mood sinks back into a tone of, “I am unhappy” soon again. Sending a child off to his room or punishing him for whining won’t improve the situation either. He might come back from punishment or time out a quieter person, but he won’t feel good inside. He will probably find ways to balk, to stir up difficulties with others, or to zone out. This persistent unhappiness is hard on parents. When we take the time and energy to try to “solve” a problem, we parents feel insulted when it doesn’t stay solved!
Whining is communication
We’d like to offer you a fresh way of looking at whining, and some interesting solutions to try! We start with the observation that, like every other behavior children have, whining is important communication. We parents wish the message would come in some other form--any other form! But whining is news from your child, hot off the press. The headline is, “I feel alone! I feel powerless!”
Usually, whining happens shortly after a child’s sense of connection to their parent or caregiver has broken. The ordinary things parents must do, like feeding little brother, cooking dinner, or talking to a friend on the phone, can eat away at a child's sense that he's connected and cared about. For small children in a big world, feeling disconnected gnaws at their spirits. They flash a signal for help, "I wannaaaa cooookkkiiieee!" It comes with a miserable expression and a body that can barely move.
Once a child feels disconnected, any small task can bring up jumbo-sized feelings of powerlessness. Having to get dressed when they want to stay in their pajamas, having to brush their teeth when they'd rather play with the cat, and having to say goodbye and go to school or day care can bring on whining.
A whining child has real needs
A whining child probably won’t be satisfied by the attempt you make to help, but he does have a real need. He needs you. Not just the things you do. He needs to feel connected to you. Only a sense of connection can mend that awful out-of-sorts feeling he has that's bothering him. Children are built to feel close to the people they're with--close to their parents, their caregivers, their grandmas and cousins and friends. When they can feel close and cherished, they behave with confidence. When they don't feel close to anyone, their behavior goes haywire immediately.
Your child’s feelings won’t be rational
Comings and goings, moving from one activity to another, seeing you busy or preoccupied with other things, or having several siblings who compete for your attention all eat away at child's sense that all is sweet between you and him. You may actually be close and available, but sometimes even when we're most available, children can't feel our love or our caring, because the feeling, “I’m alone” has already taken over. Human feelings often paint an emotional picture that’s far from the reality of the situation.
For instance, whining often happens toward the end of a sweet, close playtime during which you've done the things your child loves to do. You've done your utmost to make things good, but suddenly, you have a weakly child, who says, "You never do anything I want!" It's enough to make a parent feel, "I'm never taking you to the park again, if this is the way you behave!"
This happens because, at the prospect of the end of the good time, stored feelings of helplessness or loneliness crop up and take over. The feelings are irrational, but they lurk in the child’s mind, and are brought into play by simple, everyday moments.
Your child isn’t trying to manipulate you
When your child is whining, he isn't "out to get you.” He doesn't really want you to "give in" to irrational requests. He’s trying to signal that he needs your help. He has chosen something irrational to want, so that you will say “No,” he can open up bad feelings and cry about them, and you will offer him the connection he is desperate to feel. Try to picture him saying, “I wannnaaa cookkkiiee,” but meaning, “Please say ‘No’—I need a good cry with your arms around me!”
You can help your child connect again
Once your child regains a sense of connection with you or any other member of the family, he'll be able to take charge again. He'll ask for what he wants, without the "Poor me" tone that would drive any parent nuts. So your energy will be well spent if you focus on rebuilding a connection with your child.
The tricky part about connecting with a child who is full of bad feelings is this: his emotional tension needs an outlet before he'll be able to regain his confidence, his sense that you are on his side. Laughter, crying, and tantrums are typical ways children release bad feelings. A good laugh (but don’t force laughter by tickling), a good cry (without upset or punishment from you) or a good tantrum (parents don't love tantrums, but they are deeply effective) will cure that gnawing sense of helplessness or aloneness that causes whining.
Try filling your child’s request once
A whining child does indeed need your attention for at least a moment or two. At first, you won’t really know whether getting the thing he asks for will help him feel connected and strong again, or not. His request may seem reasonable to you—a drink of water, a snack, one more turn listening to his favorite music. If giving him the thing he wants makes sense to you, go ahead and try it once. But if more whining follows, you can be sure that the real problem is his emotional "weather.” A storm is coming.
If he’s not satisfied, offer closeness and a clear limit
The cold tone that most of us use when we say "No" serves to make a child feel more alone and adrift in an uncaring world. It deepens the "hole" your child is whining in. If you can say, "Nope, no more cookies! Maybe tomorrow!" with a big grin and a kiss on the cheek, your child receives contact from you in place of cookies. If he whines some more, you can come back and say, "Nah, nah, nah, nah!" and nuzzle into his neck, ending with a little kiss. If he persists, bring him still more affection, "I'm your chocolate chip cookie! I’m all yours!" with a big grin. Then throw your arms around him and scoop him up. At some point, the affection you're offering will tip him toward laughter or a tantrum.
Both results, as odd as it may seem, are great for him. Laughter, tears, and tantrums help dissolve that shell of separateness that can enclose a child, as long as you listen and care. After a good cry (you just keep sweetly saying, "No, Michael, no more cookies," until he's finished crying) or a good tantrum ("Yes, you really want one, I know, son.") or a good laugh ("I'm coming to give you big cookie kisses! Clomp, clomp, clomp!") he will feel your love for him again.
Reprinted with the permission of Hand in Hand Parenting. © 1997-2011 Hand in Hand