When The Whining Starts
It’s close to bedtime here. My kindergartner comes partway down the stairs to tell me about how he hurt himself. He used that whiny voice that grates on a parent’s nerves so easily. “Why is he telling me this?? It’s only a little bump!” I found myself starting to say in my head.
Flashback to when I first started parenting–and even way back to when I was teaching public school–the typical recommended response was to discourage the “whining” and “attention seeking” by reassuring the child he’s fine or even ignoring it all together. The idea was that if they got no attention (i.e. reinforcement) of that behaviour, then eventually the behaviour would be extinguished. Kinda makes sense, right?
Uh, yeah. Maybe for dogs.
Guess what? It never extinguished the behaviour in students nor my kids.
If anything, it became more frequent!
And I’ll tell you why. The behaviour is only the SYMPTOM. There is an unmet need of some kind, fueling that behaviour.
Flash forward to the present. After that brief thought of annoyance, this is where my mind went next: what might he need? One of my first go-to’s is physical discomfort like fatigue or hunger. I knew that wasn’t it, so I went to one of the next most frequent need kids have–to be heard.
“Hey buddy,” I said. “You hurt yourself, huh? Did you just want me to know what happened?”
Short pause. “Yeah.” And he goes back up.
I’m super glad I didn’t go on a tirade about how owies happen to us all…it’s no big deal…wait until you get really hurt sometime–this will feel like nothing! Stop bugging me with little bumps. Quit whining.
One quick question stopped the whining.
Yes, that’s nice. However, the real win here is that he felt heard. His experience was validated as important. So he then subconsciously internalized that HE is important. He didn’t need advice. Nor my amazing mom-wisdom. Simply a quick moment of empathy.
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