One time I heard a parent say that she was surprised that her child could communicate without whining: “I didn’t know that my 3-year-old could regulate his voice! I thought that whining was just ‘his voice’!”
As I explained to this mother, whining – or any tone of voice – is a learned habit that can be unlearned. It takes two to communicate. And the tone your child uses is part of a communication pattern that has evolved as you and your child have interacted over time.
OK, here’s what I’m getting at: If you stop hearing the tone, the tone will go away. Kids are very practical. If something doesn’t work, they’ll move onto something that does. When your kids want something or they disagree with you, would you like them to just say what they want without whining, griping, or being sarcastic or snarky? If so, just follow these (mostly) simple steps:
1. Set a beginning date for the project. In the case of whining, you might call this Operation Whine-Away! And get every adult and older sibling in the house on board. Now, it may not be possible to get everyone on board, and if so, that’s OK. Even if you are the only one doing this, this will have an effect. And those on board and involved in the project will be the ones who are no longer spoken to in a whining tone.
2. Give a heads-up. When your child is in a calm, balanced place (perhaps at bedtime?), tell her, “Starting tomorrow, I will not be able to hear your whining voice anymore. I will only be able to hear your strong voice. So if you whine, I will not hear you. But I will hear you if you use your strong voice.”
3. Remind your child in the morning. And later when he whines and you have to “not hear” him, you can remind him again, just to be sure he knows why you’re ignoring him: “I see your lips moving, and I know you want to say something, but I can’t hear that voice. Can you say it again in your strong voice?” And once you’ve given a maximum of two or three reminders, go to Step 4.
4. Hold the line. Now, here’s the hard part: NO MORE REMINDERS. When your child whines, act as though you do not see or hear him or her. As I said above, your child will stop whining, but first, she will test and test and test to be absolutely certain the whining no longer works. In other words, the whining will get worse before it gets better.
5. Connect with your child. As soon as your child uses his/her strong voice, make immediate, positive contact, without praising the strong voice. Do not praise the strong voice; in fact, make no comment at all about tone of voice. Because the strong voice is now simply “the way we do things around here.” But do give attention and respond to the request in whatever way is appropriate. The point here is not correction or instruction but rather a positive, consistent connection with your child!
Step four is hard. So give yourself a head start – make a plan for what you will do with your attention while you’re ignoring the ever-escalating tone! Silently count by 4s. Silently recite the 50 states in alphabetical order. Silently recite the countries in Africa in alphabetical order. Say a prayer, tell yourself a joke, clean something, sew something, pull weeds. Any wavering on your part will extend the tone-elimination process. But plan for this and you will succeed. If you can do it – really do it – for two weeks, you will be free of whining. And if the whining ever returns, Step 4 will be much easier thanks to your practice!