Like lots of dads, Jeff has come up against one of the most annoying behavior patterns ever in children - whining. As I asked Jeff about what she does, he said that when she wants something she can't have - from a toy to a treat after dinner - Sammie gets a big pouty face then she starts to talk in that familiar "sing-song" tone, stretching out her syllables. "Da-a-a-dy, I wa-a-a-nt that ice cream co-o-o-ne. Ple-e-e-ease Dad? Can't I have it, ple-e-e-ease?"
Trying to change a child's behavior away from the incessant whining comes down to (1) understanding why children whine, (2) setting expectations about appropriate behavior, (3) stopping the whining early and (4) helping the child find more acceptable ways to express their needs.
So here are some tips for getting at all four of these important steps. Getting some perspective and then taking appropriate actions when the whining starts will help you stop the whining and get your child to communicate in less grating ways.
Understand why children whine. Children whine because they feel a need to get something, to have attention or to just communicate. Whining tends to get attention immediately, even if it is negative. And the more annoying the whining, the greater chance the child will get what he wants, even if it takes some time to get the parent's attention. So one of the keys to addressing whining is to recognize that children don't whine to be annoying or to be manipulative. They simply whine because it is an effective way of getting what they want or need. So, the key to cutting down on the whining is to find other, more appropriate ways of communication and then for parents to respond to them.
Figure out what the whining means this time. You have to be somewhat tuned into your child to know what is happening and why he or she is whining at the current moment. In the case of the ice cream cone, the child may be whining because she wants a treat that you don't want her to have. She may actually be whining to get attention or undivided time with you if you have a habit of enjoying an ice cream come together. So ask what it is the child wants and probe a bit to make sure you have it right. And the earlier in the whining period you can do that, the better it will be in trying to stop tbe whining behavior.
Be clear in your expectations about whining. Let your child know that whining is not acceptable. Part of the job here is modeling good behavior (make sure you aren't whining for things either) and part of it is reminding the child that whining will not work and that you are more likely to respond to the child if they are not whining. When the child starts to whine, remind them of the rules and then redirect their actions to a more acceptable alternative. "Honey, you are starting to whine. You know that whining doesn't work in our family. So, if there is something you need, you need to use your words to tell me about it. Climb up here and tell me what you need without whining."
Respond consistently. As in all discipline, consistency is the key. If you allow your child to whine and get her way sometimes but not other times, she will be confused and will have a hard time learning more appropriate ways to communicate. So respond the same way every time she whines by reminding her it is not acceptable and finding a better way for her communicate.
Try being playful with the request. Some dads I know have success with a fun approach to whining in order to redirect the whine. You might try putting your hands over your ears, closing your eyes and saying, "Oh, no. What do I hear? Is that a whine? It can't be. Karlee doesn't whine. Maybe it is a jet engine starting up. Is there an airplane nearby?" When she giggles and says no, you can start off with a better communication effort.
Slow down the immediacy. Sometimes children whine because we are slow in responding to more appropriate communication. If that is the case, stop what you are doing when the whining starts and tell your child that you will respond in just a couple of minutes when you get off the phone or get done with this paragraph you are writing. "Honey, Dad will get to you in just a couple of minutes. Sit right here by me and as soon as I am done with ______, we can visit and see how I can help you." Shutting down the urgency will help avoid the whining moment.
Offer choices. Often, when kids whine because they want something (ice cream) that you don't want them to have, it is better to give them other options. For example, "Karlee, we are not having ice cream right now. Would you rather have some grapes, or would you like Dad to read you a story?" Giving children a choice between two alternatives that are acceptabel to you is a positive way to stop the whining in its tracks and move on to a better outcome.
Dealing with whining takes a little understanding, some creativity and consistent application. When those things are in place, you can cut down or eliminate that whining sound that drives you nuts, and can improve both the communication styles and the relationship between you and your child.