Of all the things people warned me about before having children—the lack of sleep, the drain on our bank account, and the endless worrying that would inevitably happen—no one thought to tell me about the whining and countless tantrums that could occur on any given day. I mean, how could people remember to tell me to introduce rice cereal before oatmeal, but forget to tell me about the most annoying sound that was to become the background “music” in my house?!?!
Let’s take a look at my sweet 5-year-old, Sawyer, who wouldn’t dare disrespect his teachers at school, and is literally one of the kindest and most well behaved boys in his class. Yes, my Sawyer. All before 9:00 the other morning he had the following meltdowns:
-In my own bed, I was leaning against two pillows and he only had one to rest his head on
-The lightest setting on the toaster apparently “burnt” his bagel, as there was slightly too much brown buried underneath his cream cheese
-His brother fast forwarded through a commercial
-When asked to sign his friend’s birthday card, he became terribly upset that his name was too long
-His little sister sat on the couch and now it smelled like her
I could go on and on. My husband has guilt that this is the “middle child syndrome” we have created for him. My mom thinks “he is just going through a phase.” I think he has quickly learned that the annoying sounds of his whines and tantrums (which are like fingernails on a chalkboard for me) get him the fastest reaction. In other words, it works for him. Why else would he just behave this way at home and not in any other environment?
As an early childhood social worker, I have unlimited patience for other people’s children and their whining. Being emotionally involved, the same does not apply for me with Sawyer. So, if I could remove myself from the situation, here is the advice I would give to other parents dealing with their own Sawyers at home:
1. Whining is your child’s way of communicating something. Listen to what they are trying to tell you.
2. Label and validate their feelings. “I know that you are sad you can’t have that donut before dinner, but we are about to sit down and eat now.”
3. Role play with dolls, puppets, or animals what it sounds like to use nice words and a calm voice.
4. Remind your child that you can’t understand their words when they whine. Tell them it hurts your ears and they need to use their nice voice. Assuming they are safe, do not respond until they use their normal voice, and then praise them for doing so. Stick to it.
5. For younger children, model the appropriate words when they begin to whine. “More cookie please.” Wait for them to repeat it.
6. Have your child choose a word that you can use as a signal to remind them to use their normal voice. In our house, Sawyer suggested that I say “pizza” every time he whines, and then he will immediately stop. Role play and practice this. It can be a funny game.
7. As challenging as it can be, minimize your reaction to the whining. The more attention they get for it, the more they will continue to do it.
8. Whining can often happen when your child’s basic needs are not met (they are tired or hungry). Determine if that is the case and, if so, address the underlying issue before dealing with the whining.
9. Be aware of your own tone and voice. Children have big ears and look to you as their model.
Let’s be honest. Had someone warned me about the whining and meltdowns that come with having children, it wouldn’t have stopped me. I love my Sawyer. But I like him more when he is not pitching a fit. I try to be patient with him and with myself. When all else fails, I like to resort to giving myself a time-out and a break from the whining…preferably with a glass of wine to take the edge off.