Tired of whining kids? There's hope...
© Beverley Paine Jan 05
Nothing upsets the atmosphere of an unfolding day quicker than someone whining or whinging.
Coming from a family of whingers it was only natural that I'd marry into a family of whingers. At the time I didn't recognise this - I don't think any of us thought of ourselves as whingers and most of us still don't!
Whinging may seem hereditary, but it isn't. It's a learned behaviour. I first recognised my tendency to whinge when the woman minding the crèche carer at a parenting workshop some twenty-two years ago announced that my two year old was a whinger. Her comments stunned me into complete silence. Naturally I was offended, and, whinging to others about this overly critical woman it slowly dawned on me that she was right! April's whining behaviour completely irritated me and was something I'd been having trouble with, but hadn't actually named . It took honest feedback from an objective stranger to knock some sense into me. And with that sense came the realisation that the only reason April whinged was because her parents modelled this behaviour every day!
Putting a stop to whining and whinging when our children are young has enormous benefits - not just for us long suffering parents, but for their long term social development. No one likes a whinger - not even a fellow whinger! Life becomes too dreary and depressing.
My friend, Wendy, had some interesting comments about whinging behaviour recently. She felt that it was a sign of feeling powerless - when "we have given up on our big dreams and hopes and attach our feelings to insignificant things." Wendy recommended that we get down onto our children's level and hug them, and "really notice" them. Sound advice at any time! When we're on their level we can more easily make eye contact, so vital for effective communication. And touching our children makes an even stronger connection. It's not simply about reassurance; it's about 'affirmation.' By showing our children that we really notice them we affirm their existence as individuals with important needs. More than that, Wendy said, we show our children that we love them and that they are important to us.
More than anything, Wendy pointed out to me, our children want our attention, more than the 'thing' they spend so much time whining for. A minute of focussed one-to-one attention with an irritable child will often magically solve the problem. I found that if I spent an hour or so playing with my children, giving them my undivided attention during that time, they'd play happily for hours without quarrelling or whinging or wanting my attention.
Many parents still believe that a child's "will" should be broken - much like a wild brumby is "broken" in order to tame and ride it. The horse is never the same, but that's the point. In her book, The Natural Child: Parenting from the Heart , Jan Hunt says that using our power or force to coerce a child into behaving in what we consider to be more appropriate ways will "inevitably engender strong feelings of fear, confusion, helplessness, anger and betrayal." Jan believes it is important to determine what the child's legitimate needs are. It's our job as parents to help the child learn how to meet them in a constructive way. Force and negativity, when used in conflict resolution, simply breeds more conflict. Wendy's method of affirming the child defuses the unhappy situation and transforms some of the negativity energy. It's important to recognise that the child may be emotionally upset or physically distressed - angry, frightened, confused, jealous, disappointed. It's easier to move into the next stage of behavioural modification then - that of reasoning through talking and attentive listening.
Some of the things I've learned to look for when my children were "playing up" included looking at my own behaviour: had I neglected the children too much? Perhaps I'd been busy with a project of my own, or housework, to spend the time I normally would with each child. Sometimes I'd miss that first indication that my child was unwell, or tired, or overstimulated. I've always found that a lot of trouble can be avoided by paying close attention to my children, gauging their moods and emotions and physical well-being. A word here, or a quiet activity there, would often bypass sticky situations altogether.
At other times, my children would become irritable and do something I wasn't happy with because they lacked information: they were unskilled, didn't have all the facts, in a new situation, didn't understand all the dangers; or weren't aware that the object belonged to someone else. It was no use getting cross with them as they clearly didn't see that they had done anything wrong. Getting angry merely escalated the conflict. I found apologising (it is, after all, my job to guide my children safely through their childhood) and then explaining the situation calmly helped. I'd often invoke the "do unto others" or "Golden" rule to encourage the development of empathy. It wasn't enough to say "how would you feel if.": I found it more effective to bring their attention to a similar situation in the past where he or she had been the aggrieved party and ask them "how DID it feel WHEN."
For Wendy, guiding her daughter with consistent, firm and loving boundaries, where "no" is said as often, if not more often, than "yes", is an important aspect of what it means to be a parent. She believes her job is to provide her daughter with "unconditional love, safety, resources, social networks, and information about the world, and a means to connect with 'spirit'", knowing that her daughter is intelligent enough to handle the rest.
For me, tackling my children's bickering, quarrelling and whinging behaviour began with correcting my own tendencies towards such behaviour. As I cleaned up my act (and I've a long way to go!) I've been able to model more appropriate methods of dealing with the causes to my negative behaviour. Learning to recognise these causes isn't always easy. Accepting objective feedback without getting offended and starting a quarrel is even harder! But it's important work. I don't believe we are ever fully grown up - it's a long and arduous journey.
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We began educating our three children in 1985, when our eldest was aged five years. In truth, we had helped them learn what they need to learn as they grew and explored and discovered this amazing world since the moment they were born. I am a passionate advocate of allowing children to learn unhindered by unnecessary stress and competition, meeting developmental needs in ways that suit their individual learning styles and preferences. Ours was a homeschooling, unschooling and natural learning family! There are hundreds of articles on this site to help you build confidence as a home educating family. I hope that your home educating adventure is as satisfying as ours was!
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