You thought you had been through the worst of it once your baby’s colic passed. Nothing could be possibly worse than that, right? Think again. If there is one thing that drives usually sane parents batty it’s the incessant whining of their toddler.
Usually between the ages of two and four, anytime things don’t go their way, or their feeling depressed or overwhelmed, whining seems to be their most common form of communication. It’s their way of saying, “I’m not happy and YOU have to fix it.”
Whining is also most commonly about attention. When toddlers are cranky or tired they want to be coddled and soothed and if your attention is directed elsewhere, they know whining is the perfect way to get your focus back on them. If you try and ignore it, the whining gets worse and they make it very clear that by not attending to them you’re a failure as a parent. How could possibly get annoyed with them when all they want is for you stay focused on them and only them twenty-four seven?
According to the book ‘Love Without Spoiling’ by Nancy Samalin, the best way to nip the whining before it turns into a tantrum is to make it very clear that you’re not happy with your child when they’re whining. Insist that they ask for what they want in a ‘normal’ voice and let them know that they won’t get what they want if they continue to whine.
You might notice that if there’s a sibling in the picture, anytime you give attention to this other child, your toddler increases their whining. This is their way of manifesting jealousy. Make sure that they understand that you love them just as much as you love their sibling. Their brother or sister need you just like they do and while you sometimes do things just for them, sometimes you have to do things just for their sibling. It’s also a good idea to spend some blocks of time where you are focused just on your toddler. Your toddler will more likely to find it easier to ‘share’ you if they know they have this special time with mommy coming up where you’ll be all theirs.
If you notice that your child gets particularly cranky at specific times of the day, you might be able to look at his surroundings or schedule to see if there’s anything you can change about his routine or yours.
One stay at home mom of a two and a half year old from California offers this suggestion, “He tends to whine the most when he wants my undivided attention. He also whines when he wants something and I have said no. What works is sitting down with him on the floor for a while 15 minutes and playing with him then I can usually get up and do whatever it is I need to do. But this is only useful as long as the whining has not escalated and is best BEFORE he starts in because I think it would be negative reinforcement. If his whining has escalated to crying and throwing himself on the floor then I tell him he needs to go to his room. Either he runs to his room and cries for awhile and come out fine OR he will stop crying. Distraction works but I am terrible at it.”
This brings up the point that while it’s important that your toddler not feel like he can use the whining as a magic button to make you come running, it’s also important that you reward him when he does use ‘good’ methods of communication. Since whining is usually about attention, that would be the ideal reward. Even when you’re busy, as you go about your day, if at all possible, work him into your activities. If he feels like he has a special position as ‘mommy’s helper’, the whining should cut down considerably as he won’t be as starved for attention or jealous of attention you might be giving his sibling.
While no one can debate that tantrums in public aren’t fun, neither is whining and usually, whining is just the opening act to a rip roaring tantrum if you don’t do your best to head it off before it reaches that point. Chances are that whining in public has less to do with attention than it does with over stimulation, being tired, or hungry.
If you’re planning on going out to eat, trying making sure that you set the time for well before your child’s usual meal time. This is because between driving to the restaurant and waiting for your meal, your child’s blood sugar levels can drop significantly leading to one very cranky child. Trying calling ahead to the restaurant or maybe try a buffet restaurant where waiting for a table or service won’t be an issue. Brining a long a few small activities for him could also help head off boredom, another big instigator of whining in toddlers. Chances are the restaurant will offer a coloring place mat or book and some crayons for your little one to keep them entertained. But if you do get caught waiting for your meals, feel free to keep the whining at bay by taking your child for a little walk through the restaurant and pointing out some interesting artwork or maybe a fish tank if they have one.
The key to dealing with a whining child is to keep yourself calm and remind yourself that if there was a better way for your child to get his messages across, he would use them. It’s your job to patiently teach him these tools even when your little angel is reminding you more of a little demon.