By Patrick Mitchell
“But Da-a-a-a-a-d…why do I ha-a-ve to go…?” I don’t want to go…why can’t I just stay here alone and play with my friends. D-a-a-a-a-a-a-d…why-y-y-y?”
Most parents talk too much when their kids whine, says Carolyn Crowder, Ph.D., author of Whining: 3 Steps to Stopping it Before the Tears and Tantrums Start. That’s an easy trap to fall into, she says, but whining can be beaten with silence.
Every kid will try a little whining, but your reaction determines how often it happens in the future, Crowder told THE DOWN TO EARTH DAD. “Instead of saying, ‘Didn’t I tell you I wasn’t going to talk to you if you did this…now I’m not talking to you…’ or ‘You’re driving me crazy…’ parents need to say nothing,” Crowder said. “Most parents talk way too much and don’t follow through, so our words become meaningless to children because they know we’re not going to follow through and all we’re going to do is threaten,” she said, noting the better alternative is to win back your credibility by doing what you say you’re going to do.
Some dads and moms believe that if they aren’t talking, there’s no discipline happening, Crowder said. “Just take the action, live with it, let the child live with it, and you don’t have to be punitive. You just have to be matter-of-fact like you would with another adult.”
‘I Don’t Listen to Whining’
“Your general response to whining should be, ‘If you whine I will not respond’ or ‘I will not listen.’ Say it once in their lives and mean it and then don’t say it again and don’t listen to whining after that. You don’t have to be rude, but it’s as if they aren’t talking. As long as they’re whining, you don’t hear the words,” she said.
“This is not about managing your child; it’s about managing your reaction to your child. We think we can control them, but that’s just not true,” Crowder said. “Just ask any parent who’s ever tried to control their kids.”
Dr. Crowder’s anti-whining model builds upon the psychology and human behavior theories of Rudolph Dreikurs, M.D., and Austrian psychiatrist Alfred Adler (1870-1937).
Tune Out the Whining
“You have to train yourself absolutely not to respond to it (whining) as if it is not occurring,” Crowder said. But get ready, she warns, because your child will probably try to wear you down. “They’ll follow you and continue with the whining to try to get a response,” hoping to re-convince you to pay attention to them,” she said. Once you decide to tune out whining, stick to your guns, says Crowder. “If you decide you’re going to do this, and then after 15 minutes you lose your cool, all you’ve done is train them that it takes longer to wear you down. If you cave in later, all you’ve done is made a bad problem worse,” she said.
Be a Whine Barometer
There are three main motivators for kids to whine; they are, getting attention, power, and revenge, notes Crowder. For each of these motivators, the parent is likely to experience a specific emotion. Attention-getting behaviors by our children, for example, cause parents to feel annoyed; therefore, if you are feeling annoyed, consider that your child might be trying to get your attention, and take that as a hint to give them your loving attention. If you feel angry, consider the possibility that your child is seeking power at that moment. And, if you feel hurt, chances are good that your child is attempting to get revenge for something you have done. But the bottom line, regardless of your child’s motivation for whining, is that whining is an inappropriate behavior that needs to stop.
Door Slamming Whiners
“The door goes. It disappears,” said Crowder, if whining escalates into door slamming. “You take the door away. “You don’t go and say, ‘Since you slammed the door I’m taking it down.’ You just take it down. You go get your tools and you take the door down without comment. If anything, you’re sort of friendly. You take it down, and you take it to the garage. And in a few weeks, you put it back up. I can promise you that it (door slamming) will never happen again. This always works. Just be sure to do it with the right tone and attitude. It has to be done with the proper attitude so it’s not [punishing]… I don’t think you can just do nothing; that’s where you become un-empowered. For you to tolerate that from a child is disrespectful to yourself,” Crowder said.
You have to decide, ‘Today I’m going to teach my kids how to behave in a restaurant,’” said Crowder. And then you actually go to a restaurant for that specific purpose—to practice. “No matter how you’ve mishandled it before, you tell the children that today we’re going to this particular restaurant and if you misbehave, we’re going to leave. Then the first time any of them act up, you leave. “If you say ‘We’re going to leave,’ don’t give them three chances. At the moment the first misbehavior occurs, you get up and leave,” she said. “The important thing is that you do this kind of training without fussing to your kids. One trap that parents fall into is trying to make their words carry the message rather than their actions.
Whine at the Grocery Store
Whining for a candy bar: “It’ll work either because dad goes ahead and buys the candy bar, or it’ll work because ‘I can get dad to lose his mind,’” says Crowder. “The game becomes, ‘Let me see if I can bring dad to his knees in the grocery store.’” From the whining child’s perspective, when dad fusses, it makes the child feel very powerful, but in the wrong way.
A Little Whine with Dinner
The remedy for dinner time whiners: “You fix a nutritious meal, and you put the food down in front of them. If they don’t eat or if they demand something else or they whine during dinner because they don’t like the food, then you just ignore that, and at the end of a reasonable amount of time while the rest of the family eats—twenty or thirty minutes—you just pick up the plate and put the food away,” Crowder said. And don’t give in when they’re hungry at 9:00 p.m., she urges.
“Do all your bedtime rituals—stories, and so on—and then, once or twice in their lives, you say, ‘I’m not going to be talking with you until morning,’ and then you go about your business. Then you ignore them. They are ghosts to you even if they crawl all over you on the couch while you read the paper. When the kids see that they don’t get you irritate or mad or get you to do what they wanted, they’ll stop and go to bed. If they fall asleep on the couch or in front of your bedroom door, let them sleep there. You just step over them and go about your business, and perhaps say casually, ‘Oh, it looks like you slept in front of the bedroom door.’”
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