Why Kids Whine... and why it drives us NUTS!
If there’s one thing all parents agree on, it’s that they find their child’s whining to be unpleasant. Our feelings about whining range from finding it uncomfortable and frustrating, to incredibly painful….worse than nails on a chalkboard.
I’ve never once heard a parent say,
“She is just so sweet when she whines…just melts my heart.”
It’s much more likely I’ll hear,
“When he whines I feel like my face is melting off and my ears are bleeding…I just want it to STOP!”
Here are a few reasons why whining is so hard on us:
1) Auditory overwhelm – When children whine their pitch goes way up, through the roof. Their voices get higher, shriller, and louder. This can throw our already frayed nervous system into short-circuit mode. We just need it to STOP because the sound itself is so overstimulating.
2) We think it’s manipulative – Often times we think our child is manipulating us…trying to get what they want. They’re acting “spoiled” or “demanding” when they whine about something. This often triggers “THE HAMMER” to come out:
“Uh oh, I might be screwing something up…I might be raising a brat. No more mister nice parent, I better crack down on this right away!”
3) We think it’s regression – Whining looks and feels like regression. It seems like our competent and capable 5 year old crumbles into their 3 year old self. What the heck? You’re 5 now! Didn’t we agree the whining stage was over? Whenever we think we’re seeing regression, we get tense and upset….like we’re right back where we started. All our hard work is down the toilet.
But here’s the truth. When kids whine they are not manipulating us, there’s a real feeling there.
WHINING is the result of a REAL FEELING….
Whining is not constructed to annoy us. Think about how it feels when you’re on the verge of tears. When we’re about to cry our throat closes, our voice gets higher and thin…making it harder to speak. That’s what is happening to your children when they whine. They are on the edge of an emotional release, and the feelings are leaking out whether they like it or not.
It’s also not regression. When a child visits some old behaviors, they have not time-traveled back to their younger self and erased all the work you’ve done. They’re still in their current stage, they’re just dipping their toes back into a younger time because they’re feeling out of sorts, and have a harder time accessing all of their great skills. The skills are still there.
All that being said, it’s important that we be our child’s guide about how to communicate effectively in this world to build relationships and get your needs met. In our culture, whining is not a prized trait.
When a child whines I might say something like,
“Please use your strong voice so I can really understand you.”
“I’ll be happy to get you more milk, please use your strong voice to ask so that I’ll understand.”
By using “strong voice” I’m staying away from using “big boy/big girl” or “baby voice” words that can feel shaming for a child. Plus, they might think, “What’s so bad about being a baby? You’re nicer to my baby sister anyway!”
While re-directing the whine, I’ll also take note of what that means about my child’s emotional state. Whining is one of those dashboard lights in parenting. It’s just a warning light….time to take a look under the hood to see what’s really going on in there.