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How Not To Speak Whine

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I don't care how perfect you think your kid is -- they all act the fool once in a while.

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momlogic's Vivian: They get tired, they get cranky and aren't always able to control their attitudes or emotions ... and lo and behold, a whinathon begins. I have two kids, and when they act up in cahoots, you can practically see the tire tracks across my forehead. It's at times like these that I look skyward and wish they'd take a chip off the old adage ... what was it? That children should be seen and not heard?

It's almost like they know I'm vulnerable and are out to wear me down. Do they? Should I be firmer? Softer? Standing up straighter to give off a more authoritative vibe? What? After a particularly harried day, I consulted expert and resident Gunc Brett Berk for advice -- who advised that I steel myself with "proactive, positive and concrete tactics."

"They are not out to wear you down," he says. "They are responding to the cues you've provided about how you make decisions. If you're someone who gives in regularly after three rounds of whining and cajoling, kids think this is how their world works."

To circumvent this kind of mixed message, Berk advises parents to listen to what's happening beyond their kid's grating tone. "A whining child is (usually) not asking for something because they want it," he clarifies. "They are asking because they're exhausted, worn out or emotionally frazzled, and they are looking for a reaction from you or the world. If you don't give one, you break the cycle."

He says that keeping an even voice and standing firm in your direction should defuse the escalation of any "demand rants." "Simply answer once, calmly and with reason and redirection -- and then stick to it," he says. "If you give in, you are simply telling them that demand rants work, which sets you up for a lifetime of demand rants."

On the flip side, it doesn't hurt to cave on occasion. If you're having a "why not" moment, Berk advises that you say so immediately, to head off persistent whining and cajoling. "When they say, 'Can I have candy? Can I have candy? Can I have candy?' you can simply and calmly tell them, 'I already answered that question. What was my answer?' Then it's up to them to break themselves out of the cycle by recalling your response and answering," he says. "This role-playing game can be useful, especially in situations where you're playing screaming tug of war with a 6-year-old over a pair of sparkly spandex tights, or a bowl of broccoli, or the television remote. This will often make you laugh at how stupidly invested you're becoming in something that is trivial and meaningless."

Nice! He also recommends thinking hard about which activities incite conflict during the course of the day, and instituting structures within those activities. For example, if the activity is watching TV, Berk says a visual cue kids can refer to -- like a TV calendar -- can go a long way in heading off a potential tug of war. "When kids have regular structures they can depend on, they feel more secure and are thus less likely to initiate or instigate issues in the first place," he says.

In potentially stressful situations like shopping (I mean seriously, I don't know a single kid who enjoys this exercise), he advises offering them their choice of a single item at the get-go. "They will spend the entire trip searching for their one perfect item, instead of involving you in endless reactive struggles over every single intriguing item they spot," Berk says.

Say you lose it, which of course we all do sometimes. Any advice on how to quickly regain your composure? "Apologize for losing your temper, and then immediately try to go back into the heart of the situation and solve the problem in a proactive, positivist and concrete way that deals with addressing the underlying causes instead of reacting to symptoms or responses," he says. "It's OK to lose it sometimes. It can sometimes be useful for kids to see your rage. Just don't give yourself permission to do so too often."

Thanks so much, Sir Gunc! Are any of you willing to try the above tactics? If so, let us know how it goes!


next: 13-Year-Old to UConn: I'm Not Too Young for Africa
10 comments so far | Post a comment now
deaddrift March 26, 2010, 5:16 PM

Every time my son takes a whiny tone with me, I give him a straight answer, but in the whiniest voice I can manage. It works great to help him identify when he is being inappropriate.

HeeHee March 27, 2010, 12:56 PM

Ask the kid if he/she wants some cheese & crackers with their whine.

tennmom March 28, 2010, 11:57 AM

When my daughters would whine, I would patiently explain that I couldn’t understand them. I could understand them,but it worked. :) I am glad that was a short phase for them.

Hannah April 7, 2010, 1:43 PM

This ones easy. If they whine i ignore them/tell them i don’t understand them with that whiny tone. And under no cercumstances do i give in and just do what they want. If they continue whining they get nothing until they can talk to me without a whiny tone. My (a couple years ago) 4 year old foster brother used to do that all the time. I’d blatantly ignore him and just talk to his brother until he talked to me correctly then id instantly do whatever he was asking (as long as it was reasonable). Now with my own kids if they continue whine for a long period of time they’d get punished but with foster kids thats hard to do because they were even telling us timeout wasnt allowed. basically we could do nothing. So ignore was the only solution.

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