“How do I get my child to stop whining? It’s wrecking my head!” Have you ever said these words, or had these thoughts? You’re not alone in dealing with this challenging behaviour, but parenting expert Val Mullally’s practical tips will help stop the whining.
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The reality is that some children are more inclined to whine than others. And perhaps it’s a behaviour that is more annoying to some parents, than it is to others. But what can you do to stop this annoying habit?
Here is something that unfolded in my life recently, that can give us an insight into what a parent can do when a child continually whines.
“What’s wrong with your car engine?” a neighbour enquired. “It’s making an awful whining sound.”
Driving with the windows up and the radio on, I hadn’t heard the noise, until I got out and investigated, whilst the engine was running. It WAS whining!
Life was pretty busy at the time, so I postponed taking a trip to the garage, but over the next few days the noise intensified. It became a persistent, annoying high-pitched shriek, that I could hear even when I was driving. I couldn’t help but notice. I HAD to take action, to sort out the problem!
The car was in the garage all day. That evening when we collected the car (and paid the bill!), the mechanic told us he had replaced a part but there was still a noise – there must be another problem. Annoyingly, we could still hear the same persistent whine, and we had to book the car into another garage that specialised in that aspect of car repair. It turned out that a particular valve was leaking and had to be replaced. We collected the car from the second repair shop later that day; at last – no more whining!
The thing is, the whine in the car engine was, in itself, not the problem. The whine was an indication that there WAS a problem!
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Stop Whining…or Else?
In a similar way, a child’s whining is not the problem – even though, as a parent, that sound causes the sense of annoyance or exasperation. Taking some intervention to block the whining doesn’t mean there isn’t a problem. A solution that doesn’t address the underlying issue will only be a temporary solution.
Even if the whining disappears, another form of challenging behaviour is likely to erupt, either then or later, if the underlying cause of the whining isn’t addressed. Which will mean there will be a different challenge that needs to be addressed, and this tangled cycle will continue and become more deeply embedded the longer it goes on.
Seeking to discover what the underlying issue is as soon as possible, can save an issue developing into a more serious concern in the future.
Sometimes a parent thinks their child is being “naughty” or “difficult” when they are whining – but that’s like saying “My car is being deliberately difficult!” when really the car was doing the best it could under the circumstances!
If a child is whining, it’s an indication that something needs attention. Ignoring the whining will not to make the issue go away. We need to look at the bigger picture and deal with the deeper issue.
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Here is a similar situation that unfolded a number of years ago, in a parenting course I was facilitating.
During the introductory session, I had invited the parents to focus on one particular child in the family during the course, as we worked through the material. I asked the attendees to write down the one behaviour that they found most challenging regarding that child. As you’ve probably guessed, one parent identified whining as the behaviour that most challenged them.
The course focused on building relationships with your child, and scheduling a quality play time with that child every week, for the duration of the course. In the evaluation at the end of the course, I asked the parents to turn back in their files to where they had recorded the challenging behaviour that they had identified in the first week, and to reflect on whether anything had changed,
“It’s gone,” said this mother. “The whining has gone!”
The interesting thing was that we had not once spent time directly discussing the whining behaviour during the course. The programme had given the parents key insights and practical tools, as well as a direct invitation to spend quality time with the child every week of the course.
In this instance, the child’s whining behaviour had been a cry for attention. When the underlying issue was dealt with, the whining automatically disappeared.
“So, what can a parent do?” I imagine you might be asking. Try these practical tips to help your child stop whining, by getting to the root of the issue.
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8 Key Tips to Stop Your Child Whining
#1. Stop seeing your child as the problem
Instead, consciously change your mindset to one of, “There is something that my child is finding difficult right now.”
Changing your mindset will change that the quality of your interactions, and that alone can make a huge difference.
#2. Avoid labelling your child: “She’s a whiner!”
Think of the labels on cans – what is on the label is what you expect to find when you open the can. If your child hears themselves described as a problem, they are likely to live up to that expectation.
#3. Avoid talking about the child’s whining behaviour as a problem
It will impact how you, and others, view and interact with that child. Instead, focus on figuring out what you, as the parent, can do differently that would be helpful. (And, unfortunately, it isn’t always an immediate fix, like a car engine – sometimes, when we make a relationship adjustment, it takes days or even weeks before we notice a difference.)
#4. Avoid using direct tactics to stop the whining
Apart from perhaps calmly saying something along the lines of: “Okay, take a big breath and calmly tell me again,” don’t directly confront the whining behaviour.
Avoid any form of punishing the child for whining, or rewards for “not whining”. Rather, see the whining as a signal to bring to your attention that something is not okay for your child.
#5. Avoid asking your child questions like “What’s wrong?”
When you ask question like “Why are you behaving like this?” they can leave your child feeling “not okay” about themselves, and that is likely to only exacerbate the problem. Remember, if your child could verbalise what the problem was, they wouldn’t need to act it out.
#6. Focus on building a stronger connection with your child
Make time for one-to-one quality interaction. Be ready to listen well if your child raises a concern, but let your child determine whether they wish to speak about an issue. Don’t try to force the topic.
#7. Reflect on your own behaviour
Are you (or your partner) so tired, stressed or distracted that your child is perhaps being reactive? What can you do to mind yourself better, so that it will be easier to be the parent you want really to be?
#8. Seek professional help
If the whining issue is not easily resolved, I encourage you to seek professional help to figure out what is the real issue, and to seek a positive, pro-active way forward for every family member’s well-being.
One thing that can be a great help is knowing how to keep your cool, especially when your child’s whining is stressing you. For step-by-step practical support, my online course “Stop Yelling – 9 Steps to Calmer Happier Parenting” is your go-to resource.
“Stop the Yelling is an easy to follow and easy to manage course. It provides you with simple tools to stop you in your tracks before you head down the yelling spiral. Val also understands that children can push your buttons, and gives great ways to prevent this from building up. I highly recommend this parenting course for all Mums and Dads.” – Emma Blake
Are you dealing with whining? Have you tried Val’s tips? Leave a comment below and let us know – we’d love to hear from you!