The incessant whining. It’s gotten so bad, lately. It just grates on my nerves, and sometimes I can’t help but cringe. It’s like a fork being scraped across a plate for me. My neck muscles tense right up and if carried on for more than a few seconds I want to scream. I can usually hold it together pretty well, though this morning I nearly lost it. I was trying to log into our bank account online, and of course I was forgetting the password. Doing bills and banking this time of year is always so stressful. My husband is a teacher, so during the summer we’re down to one paycheck…mine. We budget during the summer and we generally do fine but it always gets tight at the end, right before he’s set to get his first paycheck of the school year. Looking at our dwindling accounts, looking at the bills we have to pay, trying to sign into an online account and getting the error message (with one more chance to sign in before getting locked out) and having a toddler whining loudly right next you is not a good combination for maintaining your cool.
I quietly *shouted* at my computer as I went to enter the last-chance password attempt “shuuuuuuuut uuuuuuuuup everyone.” It wasn’t very loud, but it was still said and my husband heard it and I felt like an ass. “Shut up” is not a phrase that gets used in our house. Not seriously, anyway. Even writing it here, I’m so embarrassed I might just hit the delete and forget about even mentioning it. My husband raised his eyebrows at me. “Did you really just say that?” Yes, I did. But if I’m honest with myself, it was a bit cathartic. This was a high stress moment, and that felt like a release. I didn’t say it at anyone. I didn’t shout, and though I’m not proud of my choice of words, it could have been quite a bit worse, you know?
That whining, though. I know why it happens. She’s 2 and a half. Her language abilities are still developing. And at some point in the recent past she whined and I responded and it was then, my friends, that I taught her a very valuable lesson. She would whine, and I would respond.
But it’s SO HARD not to respond when that whining starts. I learned a valuable lesson, too, that day. A lesson that gets strengthened each time it happens. I learned that when I responded to the whining, it would stop. Perfect!
Until it starts again for something else.
Now I need to help us both learn some different lessons. To undo this vicious, vicious cycle. Here’s 3 things I’ll be working on:
- Respond to her when she first communicates a need. Not responding quickly leads to her whining, which quickly leads to my responding, which reinforces that whining behavior. I need to respond whenever she communicates in any appropriate way with me. Tugging on my shirt. Simply saying, “Mommy.” Looking in my direction and starting to head toward me. Anything to show that I’ll respond to that behavior, that she does not have to whine to get my attention. Of course, I can’t always attend to her at the exact moment she requests something. But I can certainly acknowledge her in some way, which is nearly as good. “I hear you.” “I’ll be right with you.” “You need some more water? Ok, just give me a sec to put this away.”
- Not responding to the whining with what she’s whining for. This just reinforces the behavior, because no matter what other words you say (“please don’t whine”) as you’re handing over the thing being whined for, the whining has served it’s purpose, and it is more likely she’ll whine in the future when wanting something else. Some suggest even walking away and not responding at all to the whining behavior, because simply giving your attention is a response that can reinforce the behavior. This is true…but… my daughter is still just a toddler. She does not have much to draw from yet in her repertoire of communication skills. When I simply walk away, that whining turns to distressed crying and sometimes screaming. This makes a not-so-great situation turn to a really bad one. One that will take longer to recover from once it’s over. There are situations, though, in which I do not give any attention at all when the whining starts. If she’s attempting to do something by herself and becomes frustrated and starts whining (not at me, but at the item she’s frustrated with). I do not jump in to rescue. More often than not she’ll turn to me after her burst of frustration and say “help me.” That’s an appropriate request for a 2-year-old, and I will attend to that. Or if she doesn’t think to turn and request help, I’ll wait until there is a break in her whining, when she’s silent, and then calmly ask, “Do you need help?” Usually she’ll respond in somewhat the same tone I used.
- Tell her specifically what I’d like her to say. When the whining starts, or there wasn’t even an appropriate behavior to attend to first (we just jumped right in with loud whining!), the best thing to do is remain absolutely calm and take a breath. Get down to her level if I can. Calmly, even softly, tell her, “I hear you’re saying you want to go outside. Can you ask like this? ‘Can we please go outside?'” When I do this, she generally says it. In the tone I said it in… and then I respond immediately with a thank you and an answer. “Thank you, I liked the way you said that. We can go outside after lunch. Want to come in the kitchen and help me make some lunch?”
When I do these things, I get pretty good results. Now I have to remember to be consistent with it. No more minor freak outs at the computer.
Some other great resources for whining can be found here: