When kids whine:Whinotherapy

Children use constant whining as a weapon to get what they want. Some simple tips to keep it under control

Mother with her son whiningIf you are a parent then you have heard these exclamations many times—'Mama, I don't want to go to school today', 'He broke my favourite doll,' 'I hate the rotis you've packed for lunch.', 'You never take me to the park.', 'Do I have to do my homework now?'

Has your child been complaining often? Does she have a long list of woes that she voices in loud cranky tones everyday? If you are bringing up a 6-9 year old, whining may have well become a perpetual habit, almost a part of background score of your life.

Whining can create undue stress in your relationship and can be destructive to your peace of mind. But it's important to understand that kids at a growing age will always have pet peeves and it's normal for parents to face a long litany of complaints, regardless of their parenting skills. But if it gets out of hand, it could affect your child's personality in the long run. Here are some tips to help you keep the whining at bay.

Stop the squeaky wheel

Do you work from home or have to attend to calls at all hours of the day? Perhaps this could be one of the reasons your child shows symptoms of grouchiness—because she cannot communicate with you effectively. Children in such situations feel that the only way they can get their parents to listen to their needs is by raising their voices to a higher pitch until they get the attention they feel they deserve—a proverbial squeaky wheel that constantly needs oiling. According to Jane Nelson, co-author of Positive Discipline A-Z, "Children do what works, and a whiner is looking for a response—any response."

Being attentive to your child's needs even before the whining begins is an effective solution. "When my son Ashok was seven years old, I was trying to get back to work," says Shobha Thomas, 36, an HR manager. "I had quit my day job to be a full-time mother when he was born, and I thought it was the right time to get back to the daily grind. Unfortunately, it was a difficult transition. In a space of a few months when I was attending interviews and considering various offers, I realised that Ashok had gotten into the habit of complaining constantly." It got on her nerves, but Shobha chose to ignore it. When the complaints escalated, she couldn't understand what had happened to her little boy who always had such a sunny disposition. "I decided, we needed to talk," she says. "Though I had never been consciously neglecting him, my pre-occupation with work of late had made Ashok unhappy. Once I'd reassured him that I would definitely have all the time in the world for him, despite the work schedule, the complaints slowly disappeared. It was a relief to have the old Ashok back," she remembers.

Communication is important, especially if you're a working parent. Set aside some time exclusively with your child, every week, and ensure that nothing intrudes those moments. Once your children feel secure in your love and attention, the niggling habit fades away.

Teach them gratitude

Sometimes, in our need to do the best for our kids, we tend to spoil them. Learning to appreciate their blessings helps them in many ways. Anjana Maithra, 42, is a Gurgoan-based housewife with two kids aged nine and seven. Her life revolved around her son and daughter but she soon lost patience with their criticism. "Ever since they started going to school they began complaining about something or the other we didn't have," she says. "Whether it was the lack of air-conditioning or the latest brand in footwear, life became one long list of grievances." Anjana dealt with the problem in her own way. She took along her children, the next time she volunteered at the local orphanage. "I didn't want to upset them, so I'd never suggested they accompany me. However, the exposure did them good. Would they complain about not having the latest branded shoes, if they knew others had to walk barefoot to school for hours each day? Or would the lack of air-conditioning be an issue if they knew some people lived in mud huts throughout their lives? One needs to be aware of how the other half lives in order to appreciate one's blessings".

Awareness begins early, answer all your child's queries that such a visit might evoke; clearly and without exaggeration and without mincing words. Allow them to absorb the situation at their own pace and refrain from lecturing or drumming the point home.

Keep a schedule

Is your child's lifestyle hectic—a huge whirl of events and extra-curricular activities? A tired child can often be cranky and unreasonable. If your child has been showing these symptoms, examine her schedule to see what you can cancel to make more time for her. Also, keep a close watch on your own schedule. Don't postpone meal times to run errands or do any last minute chores. A regular schedule can be comforting and reassuring, even for older children well past their baby-hood.

Identify the hidden trigger

Some children have the habit of erupting like a volcano quite often and without sufficient reason. "If the tone of complaints are getting vehement and furious, perhaps there is something bothering them causing them to vent their frustrations this way," says Dr Latha Janaki, psychologist and counsellor from Chennai. "She may be afraid of someone in school, either a bully or a group of kids who are giving him a hard time."

Subjecting your kid to third degree with repeated and intrusive questioning will do no good, especially if she is too scared to speak out. "Maintain a cordial relationship with her teacher and other caregivers at school," advises Dr Janaki. "You can always approach them to find out what's going on. It would help if you take her close friends into confidence." In time, patience and persistence will help you uncover the root of the problem.

Extra tender loving care

If you can't find anything wrong and still the dissatisfaction persists, be firm but kind. As hard as it may be, refrain from constantly rebuking your child. Don't give into any tantrums laced with demands either. You don't want your kid to feel that this kind of behaviour is being rewarded. Try to reason with them, encourage independence in their actions and be generous with praise.

Most often than not, the extra tender loving care helps to bond with your child.

Emotional healing

Marion Badenoch Rose, PhD from Cambridge University, has been studying infant and child development for the past 17 years and concludes that children need to release their pent up feelings, hurt and stress. Usually, expressed through crying, whining, raging or laughing, they release pent up emotions after:

  • an exciting day
  • conflicts with other children
  • separations or divorce of parents
  • remarriage of either parent
  • moving to a new home or school
  • the birth of a sibling
  • seeing frightening events on TV or in real life.

The signs of disturbed attachment include excessive clinging, whining, aggressiveness, or resisting closeness. A child has a strong need for love and empathy from his parents. His psyche will bury feelings which are regarded as unacceptable by his parents. This later leads to symptoms of low self-esteem, addictions, and depression.

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Kamala Thiagarajan
Kamala Thiagarajan is a Madurai-based journalist. Her writing interests encompass a host of genres including travel, health, entertainment and lifestyle. She is a full-time freelance journalist who works from her home in Madurai, South India. With ten years of experience in journalism, she has over four hundred articles in print in leading magazines across the globe. Her writing spans a variety of travel, health, entertainment and lifestyle features read by a diverse audience in over seven count