Did you know that research has scientifically proven that a whining child is one of the most distracting sounds on the planet? Yes, you heard that right! The incessant whining can provoke your stress hormones even more than nails on a chalkboard! Even non-parents know how irritating this can get. So why do children do it, and what can we do when it happens?
First and foremost, whining was designed by Mother Nature to get parents’ attention. Studies have confirmed that people tune in more to whining than to crying or neutral speech. Sometimes, that’s all your child really wants… even negative attention is better than no attention at all. So now that we know this, what can we do about it? Taking a deep breath helps, so does counting to five, or you could also try to remember the following tips:
Whining is your child’s way of communicating important information. Go through a mental checklist–is it hunger, a nappy change, an overwhelming environment, thirst, exhaustion, lack of sleep, etc. that is urgently being communicated to me? Does she just want more “connection” with me right now? How can I help her?
A lot of parents might tell you that ignoring a whining child is a good idea but, “Kids can whine all day, easily outlasting a parent who is trying to tune it out,” says Rene Hackney, Ph.D., a developmental psychologist. “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, “It’s hard to understand you when you whine. If you want to tell me how you feel, then I need you to use your regular voice.” Or ask your child to breathe deeply and count with you and then tell you how they feel after.
I know you’re busy. Ten minutes might feel too long. How does it solve the problem? Try it. Instead of ignoring, yelling, punishing, lecturing, or shushing your kid in the middle of a breakdown, try a long hug instead. Your child needs your calm right now. There will be a time to teach how to properly express big feelings, but now is not the time for that. Be the lightning rod that helps your kid to ground herself.
When your child calms down or even changes her tone of voice after you asked her nicely, praise her. It is all too common to easily point out mistakes or things that shouldn’t be done, but children also need to get feedback when they do something right. Anyone who is praised for doing something well automatically wants to do more of that.
Remind yourself that even you sometimes just need to rant or have a good cry before you can feel better. Children are tiny people, after all, and they express sadness and disappointment like the rest of us. It’s best that we respond with kindness instead of scolding them for having unpleasant emotions. Let feelings be felt fully and then they can be released. Suppressing frustration, anger, or sadness simply because they make others feel uncomfortable teaches your child to bottle up her feelings for another’s convenience, and that can’t be healthy, even for adults.
Although it can feel like forever, learn to relax and accept that this is completely normal. You have nothing to be embarrassed about. Your child can have all of the above and still whine from time to time because, well, it’s normal. Cows moo, stars shine, children whine. Your kid is not attacking you, you are doing a great job–parenting can be trying at times but this too, shall pass.