I was a whiner growing up. I whined in math class at school; I whined when it was bath time; I whined when it was time to leave a friend’s house. I figured whining would buy me at least a few extra moments of doing what I wanted to do instead of what people in authority told me. For a while it worked, but eventually Mom got fed up. I remember her saying sternly, “Delayed obedience is disobedience.” Then she would march me wherever I was supposed to be if I continued to resist. I couldn’t tell you how often she repeated those four words, but I can certainly tell you I quickly kicked the whining habit after realizing it wasn’t going to get me anywhere.
As parents, we should be just as concerned by a child who hems and haws and whines when he doesn’t want to do something as we are by a child who openly defies us in a blatant display of mutiny. While children do both as a means of rebelling against parental authority, whining is much less likely to be corrected consistently than outright defiance.
You see, whining is subtle. Young children learn to do it when they don’t want to do something they are told, but realize that outright defiance is going to get them in big trouble and FAST. Whining, however, is a “soft” protest enough to annoy a parent, but often not enough to draw corrective action.
Like any bad behavior your child picks up, a key to breaking this habit with your children is consistency in your correction, and discipline if the problem persists. While there is no cure-all for whining, I am a big advocate of getting down on their level and looking them in their plaintive little eyeballs when you notice the habit really starting to set in. I’ve found it to be much more effective than correcting your child from your full adult height and/or from another room. I recently witnessed my sister-in-law do this with her 5-year-old son Jacob after he whined about his TV time being over. The conversation went as follows “Do you hear what you’re doing when your voice sounds all high like that? It’s called whining, and we do NOT whine in this house. This is a NO-WHINING ZONE. Do you understand me?”
Jacob’s answer? “Yes, ma’am.”
This is just the beginning. After all, a child can get used to the attention he or she receives through whining if you continue to abandon what you’re doing to respond to the whining. I watched my sister-in-law do something else on another occasion when Jacob whined about wanting to go outside. Instead of going over and getting down on his level, she remained unfazed, continuing to cook dinner.
“Jacob, remember this is a no-whining zone. Please come back and talk to me when you’re done whining.”
Her actions were different this time. She essentially refused to respond until he was ready to stop whining. However, she was consistent in her message to Jacob: “This is no-whining zone.”
Making your house a no-whining zone will be a challenge, and there are a variety of ways to get the message across. For my mom, the message was, “Delayed obedience is disobedience.” For my sister-in-law, the message is, “This is a no-whining zone.” What message are you sending to your children that whining is not acceptable?