Children can get into the habit of complaining and moaning about things that are not to their liking. This can grate on us and lead to all kinds of bother! What’s the answer?
Firstly if we think that all behaviour is communicating a need and has a purpose then it helps to try to understand what is at the basis of the complaining? Despite what we adults feel about constant kiddy moaning it can help to acknowledge that they are genuinely aggrieved! Unfortunately for us, they have a faulty way of communicating what’s wrong. They may have been rewarded for persistently complaining or demanding in the past, in that they have got their ‘need’ met, maybe after we have initially resisted and then given in after a lot of irritating noise, so they realise that ongoing whining gets results and they will eventually get the better of mum or dad. It may be that we didn’t give in but got cross and they received a good ‘telling off’ which can also reinforce the behaviour.
Sometimes whingey behaviour can be partly a sign of upset due to feeling under the weather or otherwise emotionally or physically uncomfortable. There may be some difficulty with expressing what is really wrong.
So try to judge what your child is trying to say/achieve and any underlying issues they may have and then aim to meet needs that could be contributing if you can (such as thirst or tiredness or feeling dominated by a sibling), whilst following through with the steps described below:
- Prepare your child for situations that have caused whining before. Let them know what they can and can’t have or what they can and can’t do. So, for example, if there have been constant demands for chocolate in the supermarket, be clear before you enter what you require from them. Stay calm and relaxed. Be confident and clear but avoid making a big thing of it.
- Accept that they want something. Show you understand – verbalise what the problem is/what they want (this is not the same as ‘giving in’). So let them know as soon as there is a demand or first sign of irritability that you ‘get it’ without bending to their will: ‘I can see why you want the chocolate … we have let you have some before. It looks tempting and it’s hard to pass it without buying…’
- Then state your case clearly, letting them know what you want to happen: ‘I am not buying chocolate. You won’t be having any today…’
- Then distract them and try to build in some kind of choice: ‘Shall we look for that yoghurt you like and we can get some fruit. You can choose a piece of fruit to have on the way home….’
- Sympathy, action, choice….If the whining continues after the attempt at refocusing remain relaxed, show a touch of sympathy and take some kind of action which is also presented as a choice, where possible. Your side of the communication may go something like this: ‘I know it’s hard…….You need to stop asking for chocolate…. If you can stop we will find some fruit to choose…. If you can’t stop we will leave the shop without getting anything else…..’
- Positive attention….As soon as they improve their behaviour (even very briefly), cheerfully acknowledge this, move into positivity and show you will fulfil your side of the bargain. Praise them for using a ‘normal non-whiney voice’ or for putting a halt to the demanding. Give more attention when they are being appropriately behaved. Engage them in conversation when things are going well. Show interest in what they are saying.
- If necessary follow through with what you stated – don’t give in and avoid getting irritable as you take decisive calm action!
- Debrief….When all is calm have a quick chat and restate your expectations. Remain relaxed and empathic but signal that you intend to stick to your boundaries next time…..
This confident, empathic leadership works well with whining and lots of other poor behaviour.