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Secrets to Dealing with Your Preschooler’s Whining (Without Losing It)

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During this last year, my 3-year-old twins had a rough patch that I wasn’t sure I would survive, full of wild behavior and defiance that I felt incapable of managing. For months. Then, one day, the heavens parted, and my sweet boys were once again returned to me, completely over whatever demon spell had taken over them. Except no sooner had I started rejoicing at how awesome parenting was when suddenly, we entered a whole new phase that was much less challenging, but infinitely more irritating. Oh yes, my kids started whining. Whining and fake-crying and foot-stomping. I mean, they’re straight-up annoying. Annoying. I love them to death, but let’s be real here: It’s mind-numbing to deal with that kind of behavior.
 
In lesser moments, I find myself groaning, “Ugh, please stop whining!” which doesn’t help even a little bit and, actually, probably makes it worse. Because then, on top of being so dismayed by the lack of juice options, their feelings are hurt as well. So, in quieter moments, once my ears have stopped bleeding from all the “But I wanna have it!” and the “I need my Spiderman pajamas RIGHT NOW!” and the “You not nice to meeeeeeee!”, I’ve come up with some better ways to address all the grousing. And, for the most part, these tips actually work. If you have a stage-five whiner on your hands, try this…
 
1. Tell her you can’t hear her. As you might have learned from the challenging threenager year, it’s really annoying when your little just refuses to listen. So, turn the tables and explain to her that you really just can’t respond to her when she whines. You don’t have to be cruel about it, but you can say something like, “I know you’re upset, but I really don’t understand what you want when you say it like that. I just can’t hear you when you whine. Why don’t you take a really deep breath and then ask me again?”
 
2. Explain the consequences. Sometimes, your kid needs a reminder that the grumbling just doesn’t work and, instead, might have an unintended effect. A couple of weeks ago, I went to pick my boys up from school but I got there a little early, and a teacher was still reading them a book. As soon as my son saw me, he sunk down low in his little beanbag, threw his arms over his face, started fake-crying, and whining, “I don’t wanna go yet!” All of the kids were turning to look at him and, I’ll admit, I was kind of embarrassed for him. (It’s too bad other parents weren’t there because it would have been a great, “Don’t be that guy,” teaching opportunity.) In the car, on the way home, I explained to him that I know he was really sad that it was time to leave, but that he could just use his words and say so, and that he didn’t have to cry so loudly. I told him that when he got so upset, the other kids couldn’t hear the book anymore, and that he didn’t even get to hear the end of the book either. He just nodded and said, “Okay, Mommy,” and, since then, he hasn’t thrown another whining fit at pick-up. 
 
3. Mimic the mewling. I don’t know about your kid, but when my guys are bellyaching, it’s usually with a half-smirk on their face — they’re laying it on thick and they know it. So, sometimes, when they’re whining at me, I whine right back, complete with dramatic fake cry, “Because I don’t think you should have ice cream when you already had a treat today and aaaaa-whhhhaaaaaaaaa.” Then, we both end up laughing because it usually sounds so ridiculous. To be honest though, you have to know your child; sensitive kids might not respond as well to this one and might instead feel belittled.
 
4. Stick to your guns. When your kid gets that ingratiating grunt/moan thing going, you’d do just about anything to make it stop. Unfortunately though, you can’t give in because it sends the message that whining actually works. Even if my kids are begging for something that I’m actually okay with, like more milk, I won’t succumb unless they ask in a way that’s calm and respectful. Sure, that might mean they keep whining for five more minutes, but they won’t get milk until they ask nicely. 
 
5. Reinforce asking in a “nice” voice. It’s hard for preschoolers to be patient, so often, when they want immediate attention and you’re in the middle of something, the only way they know how to voice their frustration or their desires is by whining about it. “Mommmm-eeeeee, come help me with my puzzle now, now, noooooooooow.” If you’ve been practicing tips 1-4 though, they might be starting to figure out that there is some reward to waiting patiently or asking nicely. The other day, I was putting their dinner in the oven and one of my boys wanted me to read him a book. I asked him to wait just a few minutes while I finished dinner, and he did! He freaking did! So when I was done, I sat down next to him, smothered him with kisses, and then smothered him with praise and appreciation, “Thank you so much for waiting so patiently. You’re such a sweet boy and now I’m going to read you two stories.” That proud smile on his face was absolutely priceless.

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