Whining, like crying, is designed to grate on your nerves, leave you breathless and push every irritability button in your system. And that’s the point – it’s meant to! So how can we ensure our response is helpful and why does whining happen in the first place?
Whining is powerlessness
Like adults, childrens’ moods ebb and flow in ever-changing fluidity but sometimes get stuck in certain places. Whining is a bit like the needle on a record player getting stuck on the same part of the track. When this happens your child needs some help to find their music again. The music the child really wants is the harmony of connection with their parent or carer. That connection may have been interrupted, even briefly, by something that needed attending to such as answering the doorbell or feeding the dog.
When these connection-disruptions happen and the child feels most vulnerable they can easily believe they are alone and powerless to change the world around them. That’s why on the surface it looks like they are trying to control the world around them.
It’s why the sandwich isn’t cut just right or the only jumper they want is in the wash. Underneath the child simply feels alone and insecure.
Whining is not manipulation
A whining child may often appear to be manipulative and irrational. Yet whining is invariably a cry for help. It won’t really have anything to do with the sandwich or the jumper! Instead, it will have everything to do with wanting to feel held and met and understood.
All behaviour has an innocent desire for connection at it’s heart and whining is no different.
You may have had moments when you are fully available and offering yourself to your whining child and they continue whining. It can be frustrating!
Remember, your child is merely living their experience in the moment, just as you are. It may not appear logical though because their right brain is awash with feeling and sensation. This means the logical left brain has gone temporarily off-line.
This can definitely look confusing. You can probably recall your child whining after a delightful time spent together. This often happens when the loss of that lovely connection would be felt more strongly. Be reassured that it isn’t a reflection of your parenting style and much more about your child’s brain maturity.
How to respond helpfully to whining
Sometimes warm attention, nurturing touch, listening and empathetic eye contact is enough to calm the child. It may be possible re-create or re-new the all-important sense of connection. Sometimes fulfilling the child’s request/demand/wish once is enough – maybe the different size sandwich and your lighthearted approach is all it takes.
However, when whining persists it generally means that your child is brewing up an emotional storm that will need discharging by way of laughter, crying or a tantrum.
In other words, the emotional right brain is in excess. An emotional release is not only imminent but a necessary and healthy mechanism which will allow the child to feel re-set.
So with re-connection in mind, find the time needed to really tune in to your child in these moments. It’s easy to think that stopping and being present to the release of feelings will be time-consuming. However, showing warm attention nearly always brings a quicker outcome than prolonging the whining with bribes or treats.
Getting playful can really help – rough and tumble is great for closeness and giggles. Or patiently hold the space (or your child) while they move through their tantrum. That longed for sense of connection and capability won’t be far away.