The Parenting Short List: Rule #3
This rule is the hardest to stick to, but you simply must if you want it to work. Caving on some rules every once in a long while may not set you back too much, but Todd and I have learned that caving on this one is a costly mistake. To do so is to start all over again, and no one has time for that.
3. Don’t give your children anything they whine for. This is a tough one. I think it’s because our children’s ability to communicate is so limited when they are born. What do they do when they are hungry? Cry. When they are wet? Cry. When they are hurt? Cry.
But then they learn words and, possibly, sign language. Crying, at that point, should become more of an occasional alarm than a frequent text, but, sometimes, crying morphs into something grotesque, something grating and semi-constant like the squeaking of a bad belt in your refrigerator motor. It becomes the dreaded whine, and we often don’t realize the metamorphosis has occurred until we are in the middle of a store full of people, staring at a red-faced, merchandise-clutching toddler that looks like ours, but sounds like THAT child, the one we swore we’d never raise.
Been there? Good news. It’s not too late to change the belt and rid yourself of the whine.
Begin by telling your children that they will no longer get anything they whine for. Make sure they know what you mean by “whine.” Demonstrate the correct and incorrect way to ask for something. Don’t mock them! Give them a chance to practice asking for something that you can actually give them and then give it to them when they ask correctly. Explain that you can’t always give them what they ask for, but that you always appreciate it when they ask correctly and are proud of them when they do so.
If your child is too young for a conversation like this one, wait until they are whining for something. In that moment, show them the right way to ask for the thing they are whining for. If it is appropriate to give them what they want, give it only after they have asked for it correctly. If it isn’t appropriate, simply respond with a “no,” but don’t argue or whine in response. Ignore any further whining. If they ask for something nicely that you can’t give them, thank them for asking in the right way, reward them with affection and/or verbal praise, and suggest something else.
Sometimes, your children will whine for something that you were going to give them anyway, something that they need. It’s okay to give it to them, but wait until they ask correctly.
It’s really not difficult to teach children how to ask for something nicely when the reward is immediate and sure. Kids will do almost anything to get what they want. The challenge comes when you have to say “no” even though they asked correctly. When children don’t get what they want one way, they will try another way and revert to whining if it has gotten them what they wanted at any point in the past.
That’s why it is so important never to cave to whining. Every time you do, you give your child reason to believe that whining will work again. In effect, you affirm whining to be a shiny, valuable tool of manipulation to be kept at the ready. By contrast, every time you resist, you dull the shine.
Friends, if you stay strong, follow through, and manage to keep the whine out of your own voice, your child’s whining will stop. Eventually, it will work its way to the bottom of the box along with every other behavioral tool that has proven useless and irrelevant, and this is the goal.
Ever wished for “do overs”? Join the club. Next week, find out how to get yours and give your children theirs.