More About Whining

I read your article on whining (Jan. 2007) with great eagerness, only to find that I’m already doing everything you recommended, and my 2-year-old daughter still whines: loud, screaming, sometimes crying, repetitive demands increasing in volume until I give in, which I usually do because the alternative is so painful to me. Even when she does get what she wants she’ll often continue to whine “eeah, eeah, eeah” and sniff, very dramatically. It drives me nuts! She is a shy girl but in a loud aggressive way. When strangers (children or adults alike) say hello or try to engage her, even if she knows some of them! she sneers at them, withdraws and starts to moan and whine (no words) and clings to me, becoming very anxious.

Whining like this can be a sign that a child is really stressed. Stress comes from a combination of the child’s temperament with the things that are happening to her. It sounds as if you have a child with an introverted temperament, who finds it very stressful to deal with more than one or two people at a time. If your life is too busy for her, she may be expressing her stress through this whining. She may not know just what is wrong, just that she feels overwhelmed and she needs you to help her calm down by having 1:1 time with her. Examine your life with her and see what stressors you can remove so she won’t be so overwhelmed. One of my sons was like this, and the message of his whining and tantrums was: “Don’t take me there, don’t overstimulate me with many people around, give me quietness and just one person to be around.” Unfortunately he couldn’t always put this into words, but had meltdowns and whining sessions instead. When I look back I can see clearly what he needed, and I wish I’d been able to give it to him more of the time.

It’s always important to become aware of and meet the child’s needs by changing the situation which is making her uncomfortable, before you try to change her behaviour. However, once you have met your daughter’s need for calm and comfort, look at what the actual whining situations are and how you are handling them. A child who initially whines because she is stressed may learn that persistent whining works to get what she wants, so she may apply it to other situations, like wanting your attention right away when you’re on the phone, or wanting a cookie right before dinner. She has to learn that you won’t give in to this kind of demand. Learn to distinguish between a situation in which she may be stressed, and one in which she just wants something. It’s normal for a two-year-old to want something right away, but she still has to learn she won’t get it if it isn’t good for her or for you.

Right now you are rewarding your child for persistent and loud whining. She has learned that if she continues whining long enough, you will give in to whatever she is demanding. This teaches her to keep escalating until you give in. I understand why you do it – that awful noise just pushes all our buttons. I know it’s hard to do, but what might work is to decide ahead of time what you will agree to and what you won’t. When it’s a yes, give her what she wants as soon as she asks. When it’s a no, tell her “I said no” and stick to it. The behaviour will get worse before it gets better, and it will probably take about two weeks to teach her that no means no and yes means yes. Once she gets this lesson, she will calm down and stop whining unless she is really stressed.

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