At least there’s no ‘h’ in this wine.
Remember the first time your baby babbled ‘dadadada’ with smiling eyes and it melted your heart? And then her sweet coos turned into words and suddenly you were having conversations! Oh, the excitement about being able to communicate! And now… that thrill is gone. These days, she spends more time whining than she does eating and only plays nice at nursery school. When you’re not around. How did your adorable baby turn into this demanding high-pitched three-year-old and what can you do to get her back?
Turn off your listening ears.
Kids whine for logical reasons: they’re hungry; they’re tired; they’ve had a hard day and are blowing off steam. So when you’re hungry and tired at the end of your hard day, your worlds collide. That’s when her whining begins and your resolve weakens. You’ll do anything to put a sock in it and she picks up on that. Remember the time you let her have a cookie before dinner? Of course you do because she’ll never let you forget.
It doesn’t matter that you’re in a vicious cycle, what matters is that you get out. The next time you’re about to say no, explain nicely why she cannot have exactly what she wants. Until you’ve kicked whining to the curb, you have to stop what you’re doing to respond (eventually she’ll accept a distracted rejection if she knows she can trust you, but first, baby steps). So put down that paring knife/hand blender/magazine/laundry basket/iPhone, go down to her level, hold her hand, look her in the eye and say “No, sweetheart, you can’t wear shorts today even though it’s spring because it’s actually snowing and you’ll freeze”. She might pout but she also might let you off the hook if, and this is big, your reason makes sense. In other words, don’t make up ridiculous excuses – respect your kids enough to be honest with them.
If getting off easy is not in the cards and she asks again, reply “What was my answer last time?” with a smile. Now, any/all of the following can happen:
- She answers calmly, so you reply “You don’t need to ask a question when you already know the answer!” Say it with a smile and don’t be sarcastic – you might head off a meltdown if you’re genuine.
- She replies “I don’t know,” so you reply, “You already asked me and I already answered you.”
- She decides to ignore you, and walks/stomps away. With any luck she’ll find a toy to distract her.
- She starts her freak-out. Once the crying, moaning, whimpering, and pleading begins, continue what you’re doing and do your best to tune her out. You won’t always have to listen; after she’s adapted to you ignoring her tantrums you can employ the classic “Can you calm yourself down or do you need to go away and be by yourself for a little while?”, which is not the same as a timeout. But if she gets violent, it’s definitely time for a timeout. Warn once and then, always, follow-through. Breathe before calmly explaining that the timeout is because she kicked you/hit the baby/knocked over her chair/threw a book at the TV/slammed her bedroom door, so she understands it’s not because of whining. Whining doesn’t merit a timeout.
But what if the situation is not as dire, she simply whines as a form of communication? That’s when you reply “I’ll be happy to answer you when you ask without whining,” or “I can’t understand you, but I’d love to listen when you’ve stopped whining,” or “When you’ve stopped whining we can talk about it.” Notice the ‘when’ instead of ‘if’? Pick your favourite ‘when’ reply and put it on auto-pilot. Keep in mind, it’s essential that your little munchkin understands exactly what whining is to break the habit. When you’ve got time and are both in a good mood, explain why it’s difficult to understand her when she says things like “Noooooo… I don’t wannnnnnaa”. After she’s stopped laughing at you, work together to come up with a better way to say what you just whined. Practice whenever you both feel like it – practice makes perfect!
It definitely hurts to watch your baby lose it. But she doesn’t enjoy whining either, and teaching her to communicate effectively not only helps her feel better but also strengthens your relationship. You easily tune out complaints when enforcing safety rules like buckling up or holding hands in a parking lot, and this sends a clear message until she stops bothering to kick up a fuss. The consequences of negative behaviour aren’t life or death but still, wouldn’t you rather have your family happy vs not?
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