If you were in the middle of taking a drink, you probably just spit out a mouthful trying not to laugh! Anyone who has been a parent for any length of time has experienced whining. In reality, it is a part of parenting and certainly not something to overreact about. However, there are a few principles to consider and we want to offer three strategies that can really help cut down on the amount of whining you experience. Finally, we’ll finish with some thoughts to help you keep your sanity as a parent when your child does whine.
First, it’s important to put some big picture context to this topic of whining. Think of it this way, if your starving to death, I mean like you haven’t eaten in days… is it whiny for you to be constantly thinking about and asking for food? Of course not. Your hunger will drive your actions. In a similar way, if we consider the fact that in the core of who we are, we tend towards selfishness, then we will better understand what drives the action of our children.
When our kids are whining, it shouldn’t surprise us, it’s just their natural tendency towards selfishness (like the rest of us) driving their actions. Part of the maturing process… part of our job as parents… part of the discipleship process… is teaching our kids how to go beyond simply being driven by their wants. We call that self-control.
But a bigger part of this training, is addressing the very core issue of selfishness. Part of our training as parents, should have at its core, the goal of moving our kids away from selfishness and self-centeredness. Instead we want to lovingly guide our children towards Christ-centeredness and other-centeredness. So while we are dealing with the outward display of selfishness (the whining)… the goal is to deal with the heart and move our kids more and more toward Christ and other-centeredness. Make sense?!
With that said, here are 3 simple and practical tools to address whining:
- Lovingly ignore – one of the core realities when it comes to parenting is the underlying cause of much of our children’s behavior. When parents ask us why junior is doing xyz. We often reply, not trying to be flippant, “Because it works.” We’re not talking about neglecting our kids or ignoring their real needs. But when we consistently give them no payoff for whining, they quickly learn that whining doesn’t work.
- Teach away from the moment – while this is a parenting tool for more than just whining, it is especially important when dealing with this particular struggle. The reason is because of what we just said in #1. If when they whine, we sit them down to explain why whining won’t work, then in a way, whining just worked. I know it may sound like we are painting our kids out to be these calculated, caniving little creatures (and some would say they are), that’s not our point. What we are saying is, what you will find is that our children’s behavior has purpose behind it, whether our kids understand fully understand that purpose or not. So we want to explain our response to whining when everyone is happy, rested, and fed… not in the middle of a temper tantrum.
- Create some quick wins – especially if you’ve had a real struggle with whining, you will want to create opportunities for your child to have some quick wins. In #2 above, you want to layout some ground rules about whining. Let them understand how you are going to lovingly ignore them when they are whining. But you also want to give them some language you WANT them to use. Then when they use that language (where they used to whine), go crazy and celebrate the win.
Certainly there is more, but put those three strategies into practice and you will see some immediate results. Finally, remember where we started. Whining isn’t unusual and your child isn’t a monster because they whine. Always keep in mind that we are after our child’s heart. The real issue we want to address is the self-centeredness and one of the best ways we can do that is through modeling. So practice being Christ and other-centered. Speak words that affirm the heart of serving others… of putting the needs of others ahead of our own. Go as far as pointing out why you are doing something, or why the family is doing something, when it reflects the heart of serving others.
What are the hardest whining stories from your family? What are some strategies you’ve used to deal with a whining child? How have you taught them to care about others?