It pierces through you like a shrill monotonous drone – the whining of your toddler or preschooler. Your immediate response: “Please stop the whining!”
As a parent or caregiver I’m sure you would have some experience of whining under your belt. If you ever paused for a moment to think about it you might have noticed that those moments of whining might have coincided with your own moments of low tolerance and frustration. And so when parents encounter whining in those moments one often witnesses parents in their less favourable light. You might hear things like “stop whining”, “get over it already”, and “just relax”. There are others that might have resorted to the smack. Whatever your response was/is would be related to 2 main ideas:
- What you believe the whining behaviour is saying (your understanding of why toddlers/preschoolers whine) and,
- Your own current internal functioning state (stress, low tolerance, frustration).
If you could translate the whining behaviour into everyday adult language, what might it actually be saying? Have you ever taken the time to listen to the whining? Granted the monotonous repetitive shrills that pierce through your entire being are not always conducive to patience and tolerance; however has it ever occurred to you that your child may be trying to communicate something rather important to you. Might it be that they are trying to communicate a discomfort or need but lack the skill required to do it in an articulated way?
Primitive communication tools
Children experience the same range of emotions we do, and because their brain is still developing they experience emotions in a big way. Whining is their primitive communication tool. It is the next step up from crying. Looking at it from this perspective, whining is actually an indication that your child is developing and moving one step closer to self regulation. Whining is designed to get your attention. It is a moment when your child needs you the most; and this mostly requires that you LISTEN.
This might require that we challenge our attitudes and beliefs about whining and start to connect and communicate with our children. Let’s revert back to one of the two ideas mentioned earlier: what do you believe the whining behaviour is saying? If you view it as manipulation, naughty and spoiled you are likely to respond with yelling. If you view it as communicating that they are tired, frustrated or need some other need fulfilled, you are more likely to respond in a way that reduces the need for whining.
Listen in a different way
As parents we need to reduce as much of the struggles/drain on our own emotional resources. That’s why I suggest learning to listen in a different way. The next time you encounter whining, take a moment to listen, you may be pleasantly surprised by what you hear.