Children grizzling, whining, moaning, droning when making requests or comments- is not a new thing. However, it can be frustrating and annoying for parents – especially when it goes on and on.
Whining is a drawn out, complaining, relentless manner of talking in an irritating tone of voice. Once your child is old enough to talk, using a whining tone of voice can become habitual – especially when you reward this behaviour by giving them what they want. When children drone or whine, they need you to help them by encouraging them to learn appropriate ways of communicating.
Sometimes the grizzling is minor and the cause is unclear. Whining or grizzling for no apparent reason is best ignored as it is not directed at you. Perhaps your child is simply ‘out of sorts’, grumpy or having a bad day. Avoid reinforcing this behaviour by paying attention to it because giving your child attention in this instance is unlikely to lead to a cessation of whining.
There are a few possible reasons for children talking in this ‘inane voice’:
1. They may have been trying to get your attention for some time and having failed to do so, have resorted to this approach.
2. You may want your child to do something that they don’t want to do, so they adopt whining in an attempt to ‘make you renege’, so they can avoid or ‘get out of’ compliance and have their own way.
3. If a child wants something, sometimes they think they have a better chance of getting it if they whine. – (Who knows why they would think that? Whining is most irritating!) It’s very important that you do not to give into any request made via whining because when you do, you inadvertently reinforce your child’s behaviour and your child will most likely implement the whining approach in future. Why? Because it works and your child is smart!
What to do about whining: Tell your child what to do: When you child speaks to you in a whining voice, stop what you are doing, walk over to them, bend down so you are close to them and at their eye level and tell them to speak nicely/normally to you. “Sally, please ask me using your normal voice”, or, “Sally, please ask nicely if you can watch television”. Try to keep your communication positive by remembering to tell your child what you do want, rather than tell her what you don’t want. e.g. “Sally, don’t whine when you ask to watch television”. Sally hears that you won’t want her to whine but you haven’t made it clear to her what you are expecting her to do. By telling her what you want, she inherently receives both messages because her doing what you ask for automatically eliminates what you don’t want her to do.
Model what you are looking for to your child: When your child whines, show her what you would like her to say, “Sally, if you would like to watch TV, say: ‘Mummy, can I watch TV please?’” Model this request in a pleasant voice and using vocabulary that your child can master. You are not disciplining your child here; you are teaching your child a communication skill by modelling your expectation calmly and agreeably. Ask them to say this back to you.
When they ask nicely, praise them: When she asks nicely, whether it’s at your request or spontaneously, praise her. “That was nice asking. Well done”. You don’t have to make a big deal of this praise. You are expecting this from your child and simply acknowledging her when she complies.
If whining continues, give one reminder: If your child does not ask nicely when you have modelled to them how to ask, repeat the above once only, to remind them (in case they did not understand) - “Sally, say: ‘Mummy, can I watch TV please?’” Remember to watch out for being dragged into the ‘nagging parent trap’ where you find yourself repeating over and over your request while your child continues to ignore you. Model to your child what you want, give them the benefit of doubt and tell them once more to be sure they understood. That’s it. Next:
Logical Consequence for your child’s chosen action: If your child still does not ask nicely, provide her with a logical consequence. The most logical consequence is that she does not get what she asked for – to watch television. “Sally, you have not asked nicely. The TV is not going to be turned on. When you are ready to ask nicely you can try again”. OR, “The TV is not going to be turned on for 10 minutes and then you can try again” (You can use an old fashioned sand egg timer so they can watch the sand falling through. Children don’t really have a concept of time but they can see the sand falling from one chamber to the other. It’s also provides a calming distraction).
Respond to your child’s request: When your child does use a pleasant and normal voice, you can then respond. Remember, do not answer their question until they have asked nicely. You will either be answering ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ – You are not obliged to let your child have what she wants just because she has now asked pleasantly. That’s okay. Growing up involves understanding that we can’t always have what we want and sometimes we will be given the answer, ‘No’. So say, ‘No’ in a calm voice and give your reason. “That was nice asking Sally, but it’s dinner time now”. You may decide (or not), to add, “Perhaps we can have TV on for a while after dinner.” This answer may lead to further whining because your child has not been given what they want from you.
If this happens, turn away and pay no attention until your child stops whining. Do not look at, or speak to, your child. You may need to walk away. This in turn may cause the whining to escalate before it gets better. Under no circumstances give in to the whining at this point. Capitulating would only serve to reinforce to your child that all they need to do to get what they want from you, is keep whining longer and louder until you finally cave in! Your child needs to learn that they will never get what they want by whining. Giving up on this opportunity for your child to learn a valuable communication skill, also teaches her that, you can and do change your mind and therefore don’t mean what you say. If you have said ‘No’, stick to it. Being consistent will teach your child that when you say ‘No’ you mean ‘No’ and that doesn’t change.
As soon as your child quietens down be quick to praise them. Don’t miss this opportunity because you want to reinforce to them that you are on their side, supporting them in their learning. “Thanks Sally for talking nicely. That’s great”.
What to do when Whining becomes entrenched and your child is still protesting: If you have given your child an instruction and they continue to protest via whining in order to get out of complying, do not be distracted, ignore it. Remember, at first, your child’s behaviour may get worse when you change your response to whining. Your child may become aggressive – hitting or kicking your or have a tantrum. If this happens, then ignoring behaviour is no longer appropriate and you will need to adopt other strategies. However, continue to back up your instruction as described above. Now, with your child’s aggressive behaviour, you are looking at noncompliance and the need for you to support your child in learning internalised self control – Another subject.
Conclusion: With your support and through consistent modelling, your child will succeed in learning how to speak nicely to others. Modelling, trial and error, imitating and a good sense of humour are the sure keys to success. Learning to talk respectfully to others in a safe place where failure is embraced is just another skill among the myriad your child needs to learn in order to live alongside everyone else in our lives. Your home is the practice ground, a safe place, filled with unconditional love and adults who are committed and available for your child to learn alongside and where mistakes are okay.
The most crucial element is your relationship with your child – it always is in every aspect of our parenting. A healthy and positive relationship means there is a high trust model between you and your support and guidance will enable your child to begin to see himself as a competent, resourceful and responsible person who views himself with dignity, respect and value.