Behavioral Health

What’s With All the Whining?

Tammi Cruice
By: Tammi Cruice, LPC

If you’re like me, hearing your child whine is right up there with the worst ways to die. Last year when my youngest (who is now  perfect thank you very much) was whining literally every hour, I sort of lost it. I became unglued.

I responded in ways I am not proud of and if I’m really being honest, I was just whining right back at him. Instead of rising to the occasion of a beautiful, maternal, teaching moment, I would just have a good ole fashion grown-up tantrum and we’d both collapse into a whiny puddle. I’m sure my husband was thrilled.

After some bad weeks, I sought help. I spoke with my mom, whined with friends about the whining, read blogs, and came up with a game plan to end all whining in our home. I’m very sad to tell you that my child (and all my children) still do whine sometimes.

So if you’re looking for a cure, there’s no magic bullet here. However, I do feel like I have learned how to decipher when I should stop the whining in its tracks (ie attempt to give my child coping mechanisms and different appropriate methods to get my attention) and when I, myself, should stop and listen to what my child might be so upset about.

Stop, Look, and Listen

As much as it pains me (see above on how much I loath whining), I’m going to start with when you should maybe listen to what your child is trying to convey with their whining before addressing the whining itself.

  1.  Ask yourself if your child has eaten in the last 3 hours. I’m not excusing their behavior based on their hunger level but children can often miss their hunger cues and they have no idea that eating food will make them feel better. I will tell you, for my child specifically, 50% of the time, their whining is a result of hunger. For real food. Think protein—oatmeal, sausage links, peanut butter—and put it in their mouth immediately. Then, while they’re eating, calmly dialogue with them about why they may have been so out of whack. Don’t worry, we’re not talking rocket science here, just ask questions like, “Were you hungry?”, “Next time can you ask mommy for a snack?”, or “When I’m hungry, I really have to choose my attitude too”.
  2.  Your child may be craving your FOCUSED attention. This is a hard one for me to face as I am a working mom who loves to socialize, surf the web, workout, and watch Netflix. I’m not saying any of those things are necessarily bad habits and you should take time for yourself, but if your child is having a serious whining problem, look back at your week. Assess what you spent the most time doing when you were physically with your kids and for how long. For my family, five minutes of undivided attention and focus, goes a long way.
  3.  Don’t underestimate the power that fatigue may be having over your child’s behavior. Children are overstimulated easily and need lots of rest and recovery to function. Yes, I’m talking about naps and earlier bed times, but also mental refreshers. A few minutes of a check-in or cuddle time with a caretaker can easily set a more positive tone for your child. In short, don’t be afraid to respond to your child’s whining by getting on their level and just letting them sit on your lap. Or, if they’re older, this could look like just asking them, “Are you exhausted? It has been a long week!”
  4.  Show your child grace in the fact that although they can express themselves just fine, they may not be able to speak their mind or articulate their true feelings. This one is a bit more abstract but helpful none-the-less. Toddlers, and even older children, have feelings that they can’t always fully put into words so they fall back on crying and/or whining to try and communicate with you. You of course can not always tell when our child is whining for a deep unearthed emotional reason, but keep this truth in the forefront of your mind for future use. Do you see patterns in your child’s whining? Does it come on strong after you pick them up from daycare? Do you notice more whining after a wild morning of going a mile a minute?  If you begin to notice small patterns, you can start to talk to your child through the root of their whining and hopefully calm their fears and/or develop healthier coping mechanisms in the process.

Ok but now for the real reason you’re reading this post…

How To Handle The Actual Whining

So you’ve very strategically—and affectionately—assessed and utilized all the points above and your child is still whining. Constantly.

Here’s a few tips that really did help me and my children become less whiny by the grace of God…

  1. Do not acknowledge the whining as a realistic response. Again, assuming you’ve truly assessed your child’s mental state, sometimes the best option may be to calmly wait for your child to come up with a more appropriate response before you acknowledge their wishes. If you always come running (or even yelling) when they begin to whine, how will they learn that this is an incorrect response? The key here is to make sure you’re fully focused and engaged when they do choose the correct tone and volume. In our house, this looks like me asking my youngest to go to their room to calm down until they can “use their words”. Then, when they do come back to speak to me, I drop everything I am doing and give them my undivided attention.
  2. Bring some light to the situation. This tactic works a bit better for 3 yr. olds and up but is worth noting non-the-less. This strategy is the kid’s version of “Don’t take yourself so seriously”. By no means am I suggesting that you undermine your child’s needs and worries that are no doubt very important to them in that moment. I have however, seen benefit in using my own tone to make the situation seem light and totally manageable. For example, when my child is screaming for animal crackers (because I gave him fruit snacks, his favorite choice yesterday) I say, “Wow, what was I thinking? I am so sorry! If you could calm down and say please, I would happily switch snacks with you!” Sometimes this can really calm my child— and myself— in a matter of seconds and get us both out of our heads about how serious the situation feels in that moment.
  3. Intentionally carve out time for yourself. This may be difficult at first, especially if a lot of your day is already spent away from your child. But, I think you may be pleasantly surprised at how well your child adapts to the thought that you may need a few minutes to yourself. Read a chapter of a book, brew a cup of tea, call a friend, or simply remove your eyeliner in the bathroom…by yourself. Then, come back to your child, feeling refreshed and in a patient state of mind. You will likely find yourself capable of some more pro-active parents tactics that naturally eliminate whining all together when you prioritize yourself in the smallest of ways.
  4. Practice do-overs in front of your child. Another one about you but bear with me. When you catch yourself raising your volume or intensifying your tone in a negative way, stop, apologize to your child and say “I’d like to try a do-over. Here’s how I want to say that instead…” then proceed in a more positive tone. This will help re-focus you, but also will model how to stop in the moment to course-correct for your child. When you feel totally frustrated with your child, stop and tell them one thing you love about them. This is an intentional choice to focus on your appreciation and love, rather than the things that are difficult in the moment. Try to remember the big picture of who this little person is and what your mission is as their parent.

When you feel helpless, go back to the top and try to stop, look, and listen. Show grace in abundance, and choose love as often as possible. You, specifically you, have been called and chosen to be this child’s parent. You can work through your emotions and help this child to do the same.

It doesn’t always look pretty and can even resemble the sound of a coyote in distress. But, if you can practice some of these steps and remember that parenting is something that requires a healthy recognition of your own inabilities, you can start to rely on the Lord for your strength and move forward in hope.

If you feel your child’s behavior is spinning out of control, please do not hesitate to reach out to us. We are happy to meet virtually or in-person to offer guidance and support for you and your little one.

Until next time,

Tammi Cruice

Parkside Behavioral Health Provider, Bernedoodle owner, and coffee connoisseur

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