No more whine, please

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One of my main goals as a parent is to raise non-whiners. It’s not easy. We’re all inclined to whine when things don’t go our way. Babies do it. Toddlers do it. Reality TV stars do it. And increasingly, older kids and grown-ups who really ought to know better do it, too.

But it’s obnoxious. And when it’s combined with pouting or feet stomping, it’s downright ugly. Tom and I are pretty strict about it around here, but it’s certainly an ongoing battle.

There are some parenting books that tell you to ignore all forms of whining. Act like it’s not even happening, they say. The thinking here is that, if you ignore it and don’t reward the child’s whining with attention (positive or negative), they’ll eventually stop it.

That approach might work fine and dandy, but I don’t know any parent who could stay sane long enough to truly test it out. At some point, the whining is going to make your head explode. When the paramedics wheel you into the emergency room and the doctors look down at your headless body, they’ll say, “What on Earth happened to her?”

Then the paramedics will shrug their shoulders and say, “Looks like she tried to outlast her kid’s whining. Didn’t go her way.”

Now that my kids are getting older, I’m trying different methods to show them just how lame whining really is. Sometimes I do my best impersonation of “Wendy Whiner” in the most nasal, annoying tone of voice I can muster. I repeat back their words so they can hear how childish it sounds. My theory is that sometimes the whiner is deaf to his or her own sounds and therefore can’t hear what everyone else does.

My Wendy Whiner act is so over-the-top that the kids think it’s funny and start laughing. And it’s nearly impossible to whine when you’re laughing, so my mission is accomplished.

Sometimes I counteract whining by showing that it never works the way they want it to. Whining is like a gremlin. If you feed it with victory, it’ll multiply exponentially overnight and take over the world.

Yesterday, a brief whining incident reminded me that, while it may be important to let kids “feel their feelings” and “express themselves,” it’s also just as important to teach them to manage those feelings without making everyone around them miserable.

Case in point. The kids and I were at the pool and the boys had invented a water game and were in the middle of playing it when their little sister insisted on joining in. But they wanted to finish the game they’d started. So I negotiated a fair compromise by telling her to wait until they finished this round of the game and then she could get in on the next round.

But she wanted things her way that instant. She whined her disapproval, sat on the pool’s edge, crossed her little arms and commenced pouting. I told her to stop, but there was no immediate change. So then I told her what her whining was about to trigger.

“If you pout and whine, we’re going home and you won’t get to swim at all,” I said.

And because she knew I meant it, she immediately stood up, uncrossed her arms, plastered a smile on her face and jumped happily into the pool. The pouting was officially over. As she swam, she grinned up at me and said, “Why didn’t you just lead with that, Mom?”

Instantly, she’d flipped the switch on those pouty feelings and swam into smoother waters. And it reminded me that, for kids and grown-ups alike, sometimes a bad mood is just a decision we’ve made – one that, with the right motivation, can be changed just as quickly.

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