Please, please stop the whining!

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz  December 2, 2011 06:00 AM

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Hello Barbara,
I live with my boyfriend of 2 years and his 7 year old son. Both my boyfriend and I enforce strict rules when it comes to whining. (When his son whines, itss over minuscule things like not wanting to pick up his toys.) Which I'm starting to second guess. What do I do when he starts to whine? Is it normal for a boy his age to cry over having to go to the bathroom?

From: Charlie Brown, San Diego

Hi Charlie Brown,

Childhood whining typically peaks sometime under age 7. If you have a child who's older and is a chronic whiner, it may be because you are, too. The more we whine, the more our children will.

What we model is only a small, albeit powerful, part of why some children whine, but it's good to remind ourselves that whining is mostly a learned behavior. It also depends on stage of development (the younger the child, the less aware they are of how socially unacceptable whining is); temperament (some kids are predisposed to whine, it's just their nature); and how we respond to the whining. Without realizing it, many of resort to whining ourselves when we say, "Stop whining, I hate it when you whine!" Not only does that provide a role model for more whining, but it also gives the child what he wants most of all: your attention. Kids don't care how they get attention, as long as they get it.

So the first thing to consider is this: Does this boy really know what whining is? Many of us complain about it but never define exactly what it is:
"The way you are talking, sort of crying but not really, is called whining. When you talk with your regular voice, people want to help you. When you use a whining voice, it makes people not want to help you." Then offer him an alternative to whining: "Tell me what you want in a regular voice."

It also helps to figure out why he's whining. It's usually a feeling of frustration, neediness, anger, hunger, exhaustion, discombobulation. From your little description, I'm wondering if this is a boy who's moved from home to home? Who feels like you're taking time away from his time with his dad?

If you get below the surface and get to the cause of his whining, it may disappear on its own. For instance, I would experiment and make a point to create alone time with his dad every day they are together, including calling it "Alone time with dad." They don't have to do anything special, just being together may be enough for him to feel his need is being met.

Also consider this: When there's no underlying cause that you can figure out, whining is often a clue that a child just needs comfort. Physical contact. A cuddle. Provide it without commenting on the whining: "I could use a hug, how `bout you?"

In answering your question, I've borrowed liberally from a column I wrote some years ago. Read it for more suggestions, it's one of my favorites.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
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3 comments so far...
  1. This exactly what my Mother did, and it worked very well. If you think about it, as a parent (or step-parent) part of your job is to teach your child how to function in interpersonal relationships, so this is part of teaching him how to communicate effectively.

    Posted by Meri December 3, 11 10:02 AM
  1. Actually, I think a bigger question is does this couple know what whining is? I'm curious as to what the "strict" rules about whining are.

    Posted by ash December 3, 11 01:23 PM
  1. There are lots of complaints about whining children, so as a former teacher and grandmother of nine I offer the following suggestion:  Frequently it helps for children to be read fun-stories that illustrate the unpleasantness of bad behavior and ways to correct it. Sometimes children don’t understand how annoying the sound of whining can be. My latest children's book, "Peter and the Whimper-Whineys" by Sherrill S. Cannon is a story of a little rabbit who does nothing but whine. This rhyming book should be read with alternating normal voice and whining voice, according to the character speaking. Children learn that Whimper-Whineyland is not a fun place to be, not just for all the whining and crying that goes on but for all the other unpleasant character traits exemplified!!! The book can be found on amazon.com where there is the read-inside-the-book feature, as well as on bn.com. I hope that this might help your child as well as it has helped my children and grandchildren!

    Posted by Sherrill Cannon December 3, 11 08:50 PM
 
3 comments so far...
  1. This exactly what my Mother did, and it worked very well. If you think about it, as a parent (or step-parent) part of your job is to teach your child how to function in interpersonal relationships, so this is part of teaching him how to communicate effectively.

    Posted by Meri December 3, 11 10:02 AM
  1. Actually, I think a bigger question is does this couple know what whining is? I'm curious as to what the "strict" rules about whining are.

    Posted by ash December 3, 11 01:23 PM
  1. There are lots of complaints about whining children, so as a former teacher and grandmother of nine I offer the following suggestion:  Frequently it helps for children to be read fun-stories that illustrate the unpleasantness of bad behavior and ways to correct it. Sometimes children don’t understand how annoying the sound of whining can be. My latest children's book, "Peter and the Whimper-Whineys" by Sherrill S. Cannon is a story of a little rabbit who does nothing but whine. This rhyming book should be read with alternating normal voice and whining voice, according to the character speaking. Children learn that Whimper-Whineyland is not a fun place to be, not just for all the whining and crying that goes on but for all the other unpleasant character traits exemplified!!! The book can be found on amazon.com where there is the read-inside-the-book feature, as well as on bn.com. I hope that this might help your child as well as it has helped my children and grandchildren!

    Posted by Sherrill Cannon December 3, 11 08:50 PM
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About the author

Barbara F. Meltz is a freelance writer, parenting consultant, and author of "Put Yourself in Their Shoes: Understanding How Your Children See the World." She won several awards for her weekly "Child Caring" column in the Globe, including the 2008 American Psychological Association Print Excellence award. Barbara is available as a speaker for parent groups.

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