Virtually every parent will experience that awful period where their child expresses excessive whining. This typically presents itself somewhere between the ages of 2 and 5 and can be one of the hardest and most frustrating periods of parenthood.
Conventional wisdom indicates that one cannot stop their toddler from whining and must in turn “deal with it as this is just a phase”. The hard truth is that there is no way that you can completely stop whining altogether. Diving deeper into the roots of the reasons such behavior occurs does present some greater lessons about parenting and dealing with others in general
Human beings are reactive by nature. Think about this for a moment: Do you have periods whereas an adult you feel lost, misunderstood, and even unloved? Are there moments when you feel as though you just want to scream? If you are honest with yourself, the answer is invariable YES.
Also, take into account the fact that you have had years of growing, maturing, and most importantly learning how to communicate. Now take a step back and look at your child. During the ages that the whining is at its peak, they have not yet learned how to express themselves in mature ways.
The answer to dealing with whining does lie in stopping the behavior but instead learning more constructive ways to react to it.
When a child is whining about a toy or wanting a cookie there is invariably something deeper happening. They are likely feeling one or more of the following:
- Powerless – simply put, they cannot obtain the toy or cookie on their own.
- Alone or disconnected – they feel they are not being given the attention they need.
As these feelings build (even over a short time), “they want” becomes the vehicle for expressing deeper issues. Think about it. If you were feeling frustrated and had no way of communicating it, how could you rationally express yourself?
The funny part is that when a child reacts in frustration our natural tendency is to in turn react within impatience and frustration. We are then essentially entering into some sort of negative feedback loop (which is like some grand cosmic joke).
Now that we understand the root causes of why a child is whining, how do we deal with it?
The key is to take a step back and understand what your child is trying to communicate and why. They are typically not trying to manipulate you. Sometimes the stored-up frustration simply needs to be expressed. In truth, a tantrum is a natural and healthy way for a toddler to relieve pent-up energy.
The following are some actions we have found useful in alleviating the behavior over time:
- When the whining starts, try fulfilling the request once.
- Ask them what they need from you. This is seeking to understand the deeper issue.
- Offer closeness, and a “no” accompanied by affection.
- If these fail and the tantrum escalates, let them vent.
- If you can’t be helpful, make eye contact with them, and give a touch or pat.
- Allow for the emotional expression if you have the patience and time (i.e., not 3 minutes before you need to leave for an engagement).
It is sometimes said that we learn from our children as much as they learn from us. As such, there are a few larger truths we can learn from this period of parenting. First and foremost, when we react with impatience to live’s inevitable issues, might this simply be because we feel helpless? Secondarily, when we are frustrated with another adult, if we take a step back and try to understand the real root of what they are feeling, won’t we have a better chance at resolving conflict more productively?
Lastly, as hard as it is to deal with a whining toddler, reacting with more patience and understanding can have longer-term positive effects on parenting. The more we teach our children to communicate in positive ways, the more likely we are to build lines of honest dialogue with them that can grow into adolescence and beyond.