Toddlers are wonderfully creative. In fact, they have to be. They stand only a few feet tall have limited verbal abilities and comparatively no muscle strength. They are not yet old enough to fend for themselves and rely on adults for their care and survival. It is a testimony to their brilliance and creativity that they ensure their security and connectedness to mom with the ultimate technique: whining.
The Purpose of the Behaviour
Toddlers whine for attention and to keep us in their service. It looks something like this: "stop whining" "enough already" "use a regular voice" "oh fine, take one more cookie, but then I don’t want to hear anymore whining!" It is a regular non-stop conversation with a pre-verbal child and they can wear you down with its tone and persistence.
If we want children to stop whining for attention we have to stop attending to it.
In order to deter this attention seeking behavior we must solve two challenges:
- Ensure that the whining proves "ineffective" in getting our attention
- Show the child that we will give our attention, two-fold in fact, for behaviour that is appropriate and not demanded of us.
Ignore the "Undo Attention Seeking Behaviour" – but not the child!
You may know this as the old adage "separate the deed from the doer". Our task is to ignore the whining but not the child. That means we can stay fully engaged with the child but eliminate all the "noticing" of the whining that comes in the form of commenting, reminding, nagging, coaxing, and lecturing about their tone.
Decide what you will do
If you want your child to ask for things in a pleasant voice, you can gently and calmly tell them that you don’t respond to whining. If they would like something, you will respond to pleasant requests only.
Action not words – follow through
You never need to repeat that you don’t respond to whining, just demonstrate and live out this new "social order" by responding to pleasant voices and being non-responsive to whining. Your toddler understands from your actions, not your words. Honest!
Do the unexpected
Since whining is meant to trigger an interaction pattern (they whine, you respond with nagging, they whine some more) you can break the cycle by doing anything other than the expected response. Hugs and humour are always a good choice when trying to bust up an entrenched interaction pattern. Next time they whine, ignore it and instead ask, "would you like a hug?" or start a spontaneous tickle fight. See how it goes.
Remove the audience
Remove yourself. No need to say anything, just go. Walk out calmly, not in a huff.
Never do for a child what a child can do for her/himself
Give the gift of responsibility. Help your children be less dependant on you and less demanding of your services by training them to be responsible and independent. Teach them how to get dressed and fetch a cup of water when they are thirsty. The more they accomplish on their own, the more they will feel empowered. The more they feel empowered the less they will require or wish for your "services".
Notice positive attention-seeking
Make sure that you make mention of the behaviour you do like to see and find ways to connect with your child in meaningful ways instead.