In addition to having worked in a child care program, I am a mother of three and have heard my fair share of whining. My daughter, my youngest and shipped off to college this past year, has yet to let me down. I have heard about college food, roommates, walking in bad weather, professors and everything else! Over the last several months, it made me step back and think about what I can say or do differently that will help her change her ways. Who doesn’t feel like whining once in a while? Adults indulge, too, so why does it drive us wild when our kids do the same thing?
Maybe it’s because whining sounds so much like a veiled accusation. If you hear, “Teacher, can I have a drink?” in a cheerful voice, it comes across as a reasonable request. But if it’s said in a long, drawn-out, pleading whine, it can make you feel like the child thinks you’re the kind of person who wouldn’t give a poor, parched child a sip of water in the middle of a hot desert.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. Children can be helped to state their needs in a straightforward way. In the process, they might even begin to recognize and talk about what’s really on their minds, something they’ll find useful throughout life.
Here are some suggestions to consider:
- Give the children in your classroom basic information about what whining is. Surprisingly, most young children don’t have a clue. Instead of mimicking the child when her whining is grating on your nerves, explain it at a time when you’re all in a happier mood. Do it without accusations. You might pretend to have a teddy bear talk in a “whiny voice” and then in a “regular voice.” Or play a game of asking questions in different kinds of voices.
- Whenever a child whines, remind him briefly that you’ll answer when he uses his regular voice. Of course, you’ll have to use your regular voice when you remind him! The minutes spent ignoring whining always seem much longer than ordinary minutes, so use the time think ahead. Figure out the possible cause of the whining. Is he tired and just doesn’t realize it? Has it been too long between meals? Is he disappointed or worried about something?
- Once a child talks to you in a non-whiny voice, take the time to answer. If she is asking for something that just isn’t possible, be sure to sympathize about how hard it is to want something that you can’t have. Sometimes just feeling understood helps.
- Sometimes you can help your child understand why he felt whiny in the first place. For example, you might have a hunch he was angry at you and wasn’t sure if it was okay to come right out and say so. Keep it simple and help him label his feelings. This also lets children know that teacher won’t fall apart if they put those feelings into words!
We often have to take things away from infants and toddlers to protect them, and it’s always easier to do if we replace the object we’ve taken away with a toy or another object that they can safely have. It’s the same way with whining. Don’t just take it away. Give children something to use in its place: the ability to recognize and discuss what’s really bothering them. It’s a life-long gift.