Have you ever had one of those days when your little one just won't stop whining? You know....when every request is intense and needs immediate attention, every bump or mishap is a catastrophe, and every sound out of his mouth is an ear-piercing pitch that grates on the nerves? Those are hard times!
When Munchkin is in one of these moods, my patience wanes with each whine. Still, I try hard to figure out what's bothering him so I can meet whatever unmet need is haunting him (or help him cope without it). Sometimes it's something obvious like teething or illness, but there are plenty of times when I'm not sure what's going on with him.
I guess some of the stuff I've been reading from Aha!Parenting really works because I recently figured out that I could stop the whining when its cause is not physical. I did this by helping him feel connected, competent, and accepted. It was incredibly simple.
First, I took a moment to re-center myself. I was getting flustered with the whining, so this was a crucial first step. I have a favorite chair where I go for deep breathing...it works magic! One thought that really helps me is to remember that it's not his fault he's cranky. He's just a little kid, a toddler with immature coping skills. After relaxing into myself, I could then think clearly and act with compassion, rather than react with irritation.
Next, I spent a few moments connecting deeply with my son. For us, this met nursing. But not just nursing. I looked him in the eye, caressed his hair, and talked to him. "Not feeling well, are you? Having a hard time? I know..." It only took a few simple words of validation. I held him close and let him feel my acceptance of his mood. Of course, genuine acceptance was crucial and I could do that once I was calm and focused.
Then I sensed that he also needed the flip side to connection: independence. All morning, Munchkin had been very sensitive about doing things himself and was getting easily frustrated when he failed. Each event spurred a new episode of tears and whining. To bolster confidence in his independence, I made a point of providing tasks for him that I knew he could accomplish...turn off the bathroom light, put an item in the trash, hold my keys, etc. Instead of lavish praise for his deeds, I sincerely thanked him as I would any person: "Oh, thank you, Munchkin! That's very helpful, I really appreciate it."
In addition, I calmly acquiesced to all kinds of strange preferences Munchkin expressed ("Not that bowl, this one"). That's right, I went against 'conventional' and mainstream advice for dealing with a whiner (check out page 2 of this Parenting article: it says to ignore the kid or the whining will get worse!). Instead of shunning my son, who was clearly upset, I "caved" by making him more comfortable. Naturally, I maintained our normal household limits, but I let him be picky and whine about the little things. Most of the time, these little things don't really matter. Giving my toddler a sense of personal power when he's feeling low does matter.
Most importantly, I didn't react negatively to his whining. I didn't tell him to say please or ask nicely. I let him know that it was hard to understand him when he whined, but I did so without shaming him or acting irritated (only possible when I'm calm and centered!). I didn't get annoyed or take it personally when he became insistent. I didn't withhold love or privileges or fulfillment of reasonable requests. I firmly stood my ground: the ground where I'm on his side, where I assure his safety, where I love him unconditionally, where I accept his whining.
And then he stopped whining. For good.
Just like that. Incredible! All I had to do was genuinely connect with him, provide him with the opportunity to exhibit competence, and truly accept his foul mood. For me, the real key was centering myself. The rest came easily from the place of peace I'd created within myself.
Why did these strategies work? I think it's because gentle, unconditional parenting really is effective. Maybe Munchkin's cause for whining had been emotional pain. Maybe he missed me (he'd spent the first hour of the day with Papa while I got to sleep in). Maybe he was feeling incapable in this big world where Mama, Papa, and the big kids can do all that cool stuff (we'd met some new playmates a few days prior). Maybe he felt left out or ignored (Papa isn't as playful in the morning).
Whatever it was, I managed to get through to him and help him out of it. He was able to re-center himself, too. Best of all, he knows that when he's hurting inside, he can rely on me to help him through it. I won't demand a change in behavior without considering his needs, no matter how annoying that behavior is.
And for the record, no, the whining did not get worse or return. His whines turned into smiles and we enjoyed the rest of the day together. Since then, he has not "tried to use whining to get his way". Conventional parenting wisdom debunked! Not surprising, though. When my son whines, he's not trying to annoy me or manipulate me. He's trying to ask for something but doesn't have the words to do so. I'm glad I listened.
Now, if I could just apply this gentle approach every time we have one of those days...
I'd love to hear your thoughts! Please feel free to leave a note.