Wandering around cyberspace today I came upon a psychologist offering advice on how parents should treat their two-year-olds who are testing their newly discovered power to be obnoxious (my formulation).
1. Meet her basic needs. She will certainly whine if you force her to endure one more errand when she’s hungry and tired. The problem with whining is that it becomes a habit. Why create a negative situation which she’ll then repeat?
2. Be pre-emptive. Make sure that your child gets enough of your positive attention, unprovoked. Pre-empt whining by giving attention BEFORE she gets demanding. Anyone who’s had to ask a romantic partner “Do you love me?” knows that attention given after you ask can never really fill the need. The secret is to take the initiative and give attention the child hasn’t asked for, often, so she feels your support and connection. And of course it’s particularly important to give attention when she shows the first sign of needing your emotional support, before that quick downhill slide.
3. Give her alternate tools by teaching her how to ask appropriately for something and negotiate with you. Since whining is a function of powerlessness, generally helping your child to feel that she can get what she wants through reasonable measures will carry over into the rest of her life.
In other words, you don’t want her to learn that she gets her way in life by whining or tantrumming, but you do want her to learn that she can get what she wants through managing her emotions, seeing things from the other person’s point of view and setting up win/win situations.
How? “Ok, you want to go to the playground, and I need to stop at the hardware store. Let’s do this: If you cooperate at the hardware store, we’ll have time to stop at the playground on the way home. And if you are really good about getting in and out of your carseat and not dawdling as we leave the house, we can stay at the playground for five extra minutes.” If she feels like she only gets the playground by whining, she’ll become an expert whiner.
4. Don’t reward whining. Don’t give in and buy the candy. Be nice about it, but explain that we don’t reward whining. Of course, be prepared for her to switch gears and ask nicely. Then you might have to reward that with extra time at the playground, even if you can’t agree to candy!
5. Support her in pulling herself together and talking normally. It’s fine to say “My ears don’t hear whining. Can you ask me in a regular voice?” but try to say it warmly and supportively. Reward all her efforts to express herself positively.
Aha. So I looked around a bit more, and found that the psychologist has a Quote of the Day feature. Today's quote:
“We all have a neurological fear system embedded deep within our brains, a neural network that once helped us survive as a species, but now limits our lives. This biological circuitry of fear is the greatest enemy of happiness.”
-- D. B, Ph.D.
Huh. Now why didn't I ever think of that? All those fear-casting facts I've encountered in life? They're all figments of a neural network that helped my ape-like ancestors to survive all those falling coconuts in their jungle. All you need is to think positively and encourage everyone warmly and supportively and the world will be perfect.