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Home Family Parenting Advice Tools for getting kids to quit whining — Good Parenting

Tools for getting kids to quit whining — Good Parenting

Dear Dr. Debbie,

My 6-year-old son still whines. It’s becoming more than I can bear since his 4-year-old and 2-year-old sisters are also whiners. But he should have outgrown it by now, don’t you think?

Stop the Whining

Don’t miss last week’s column How to handle parties with adults and kids and alcohol — Good Parenting

Dear STW,

Whining is an expression of helplessness. It’s also a learned tactic for gaining the attention of others, even if it’s negative attention. Remember that at 6-years-old, your son still relies on you for so many of his needs. Helping him to become more confident and independent requires giving him a solid foundation of trust — that you will indeed meet his needs as you gradually help him to meet them on his own. His unlearning of whining, therefore is up to you.

Here’s what you need to do:

  1. Respond immediately and positively to the whine. If he’s whining for juice, give him juice. If he’s whining about his homework, help him get through it or help him pick a better time to tackle it. If it’s impossible, direct yourselves to the teacher who assigned it so he can be successful with it.
  2. If the whine is not about anything specific, or seems totally irrational (whining for sugary snacks right after dinner), the root of his feeling of helplessness could be hunger, fatigue, boredom or jealousy. Choose one of these needs and fix it immediately. (Get him a nutritious snack, cuddle up with him and a book, or include him in a chore you have to do anyway. Parental attention fixes most whining.)
  3. Step back and look for patterns to his whining. Is it usually the same time of day? He could be tired or hungry. Sparked by a sibling? They may need your help with civility rules and well-defined territories. More often on school days or non-school days? Further detective work can reveal what his frustrations are. Bad weather days? Need to get some exercise. Junk food excess? Change your buying habits and set reasonable limits. Your own stress level? Improve your nutrition, rest and exercise. Set priorities and manage your time better. Delegate some duties to others, find a confidante to unload your burdens or start journaling.
  4. Address the main pattern or patterns. For example, if whining occurs routinely when you re-unite with him at the end of his school day, change the routine. Greet him with a healthy snack, or start afterschool time with a trip to the playground, or sit with him on the couch as you unpack his school things and chat about what he did that day.
  5. Get some backup to allow you to devote 100 percent attention to your son — at least for a week or two. Everyone will benefit tremendously from other adults (or older children) who are family members, neighbors or friends who can spend quality time with the little sisters.
  6. Come up with strategies for your son to be more independent about the things he whines about. For example, if whining is often triggered by conflicts over space or toys with one of his sisters, set your household’s rules for civility (i.e.: don’t take without asking, etc.) and brainstorm negotiation strategies with him. He could help to print up the House Rules to post on the refrigerator. You are teaching him not only how to create family harmony, but empowering him with the fundamentals of democracy.
  7. Support his mastery of self-help skills. To gain a new skill, he must understand the benefit of having the skill; see someone model the skill; get coached to carry out the skill in real time (in baby steps at first if necessary), and have his success with the new skill acknowledged as his own accomplishment.
  8. Back out of doing these things as they take hold and work for him. You should see a concurrent decline in whining as he achieves mastery in taking care of his own needs. Success is its own reward.

Once his whining reduction is well underway, you can do the same for his sisters. See how this works? Whining is an expression of helplessness. “I can’t do it. No one cares about me.” Provide the help and attention that is needed, and the whining is no longer necessary.

Dr. Debbie

Deborah Wood is a child development specialist in Annapolis. She holds a doctorate in Human Development from the University of Maryland at College Park and is founding director of the Chesapeake Children’s Museum. Long time fans and new readers can find many of her “Understanding Children” columns archived on the Chesapeake Family Magazine website. You can find her online at drdebbiewood.com.

What do you think? Leave your thoughts in the comments or submit a question to Dr. Debbie at Betsy@jecoannapolis.com

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