By Amita Bhardwaj
So you went to pick up your preschooler and were met with continuous whining of how she didn’t get what she wanted during the day. You are worried that this is becoming a pattern where she complains just about everything?
Even before you start to look for solutions to what you fear is now becoming a habit, it is important to understand why children whine in the first place. For young kids, whining is a way to express themselves when they are tired, hungry, uncomfortable and more. Ever so often, they do not have the adequate vocabulary to express what they are feeling. However, even when they do develop this vocabulary, whining may continue as they know from experience that it is one way to attract your attention and get a reaction, even if negative.
Fortunately, though, there is a way that you can break this pattern. The key lies in not giving in to the temptation to yell or to give what the child wants simply because you are either embarrassed or tired of the whining. Instead, consider handling the child with firmness and consistency. Here are a few things you can do to help break this habit in the child:
Acknowledge the emotion
Much as the child’s constant complaining irritates you, validate the child’s emotion. Sometimes the complaining can be triggered by a long day, for example. In such cases, acknowledge the fact that the child may be uncomfortable on account of the fact that they are tired. However, validating the emotion does not mean that you have to validate the behaviour. On an occasion where he throws and breaks a toy, because he is frustrated that his friend had to leave early, it is okay to tell him that he is getting a time-out. The message you are passing therefore is that it is okay to feel frustrated but it is not okay to break things. Ensure also that the child gets the message that negative attempts to get attention aren’t going to succeed, by ignoring the whining if it continues.
When the child is complaining about a particular situation, ask him or her what can be done to resolve it. You could even offer age appropriate choices if the child is unable to come up with alternatives. Early interventions such as these will in turn help the child develop problem-solving abilities and be more action oriented. A word of caution here though, that having identified a solution, don’t be too much in a hurry to jump in and help the child. Instead, allow him time and space to work on the solution. If you render help too early or worse still set out to solve the issue yourself, the child could grow up with a sense of entitlement where he assumes that his problems will be solved by others.
Use coachable moments
For a child who looks at the negative in a situation, it will help to use small coachable moments to point out the many positives of any situation. For a child who is unhappy about the fact that his friends had to leave after a short time, it will be worth pointing out they got some time together to have fun. Similarly, if the child is upset about the fact that the bad weather does not allow him to play outside, show him the many indoor activities that could be equally fun. The idea is clearly to help him or her develop a mindset to focus his energies on areas that he has control over.
Be a role model
Above everything, remember that to tell isn’t half as good as to show and tell. Setting the right example, therefore, is of utmost importance. Children pick up a lot of things from what they see around them. Therefore, the way that you handle your own frustrations is the number one way that they pick up important coping mechanisms. That doesn’t in any way imply that you shouldn’t share your disappointments with a child. What is important is that they see that disappointments and frustrations find a healthy release.
(The writer is VP – Curriculum, Footprints Childcare.)