Photo by Eva Garces/Lemonade Illustration Agency
"I’m sorry, sweetie, but I can’t understand you when you whine.” I get down to Ari’s level and try to say it as nicely and calmly as possible.
My terrible two keeps at it, even after several warnings that become sterner as my blood pressure rises. I ball my fists, ready to snap. “You will not get what you want if you whine.”
In fact, Ari whines all day long — every day — and I’ve reached my breaking point. I’m so aggravated by the constant wa-wa-wa in my ears that I’ve started fantasizing an escape to somewhere far away. Australia. Just until my toddler turns three, or maybe four. I joke, but really I feel such guilt for not wanting to be around him.
Still, they didn’t coin the phrase “terrible twos” for my son alone. At least that’s what certified parent coach Kathy Thomas tells me.
“Kids whine — there’s no doubt about it,” says Thomas, who counsels parents through her company, Hope for Parents. “It’s typical for children to assume — especially starting at ages two to three — that whining will get them what they want. They will use the strategy again and again because parents respond to it.”
Thomas assures me there are ways to break this frustrating habit. Here’s what she suggests:
• Stay calm and neutral. Your child needs to know that you won’t react to a whiny voice.
• Acknowledge that your child wants something and try using humour: “Ouch, my ears are hurting. I know that you want something, but I can’t understand you when you use that voice. Can you find another way to tell me what you want?”
• Teach your child to ask for things differently by modelling how you want her to speak and what you want her to say. In an even tone, ask her to repeat a sentence, such as “Mommy, may I please have some more milk?”
• Make up a bedtime story about a little boy who whined when he wanted something, but no one could hear him until he learned a better way to use his voice. The next day when your child whines, remind him of the story to reinforce the message. If you’re too tired to invent a story, try reading a book to him like The Berenstain Bears Get the Gimmies.
• Be firm and consistent. Within a week, you’ll likely notice a change in the way your child asks for things and talks to you. You are teaching her that she has a choice about how she behaves.
Thomas says that children who whine will stop eventually because the rest of the world won’t put up with it, “but after how many years and at whose expense?” she says. “Parents have limits. While kids are outgrowing their habit, just hang tough and try not to go crazy.” Since I’ve reached my limit, I test out Thomas’s strategies on my son. I start to notice he whines less and changes his tone sooner once I remind him that whining is not the best way to ask.
“Ouch-e-wa-wa!” I say when he starts whining. He laughs, but I can tell that something has clicked. He asks again for help putting on his shoes, this time in a normal voice. Maybe I can unpack my suitcase. There may be no need to go to Australia after all.
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