By Ginger Hubbard
“Mooooommyyyyyyy, I want some juuuuice . . .”
“I don’t wanna go to sleeeeeeep . . .”
“I have to go to the baaathrooooooom . . .”
Is there anything more annoying than whining? Perhaps, but off the top of my head, I can’t think of it.
Children who whine in an attempt to get what they want lack healthy communication skills. Parents must not blame the child for this behavior. Rather, they must understand that children whine simply because they are allowed to whine. Moms and dads who permit their children to whine (by ignoring or giving in) hinder them from learning to communicate appropriately in a way that pleases God and brings happiness to all involved.
Children who use demanding forms of communication to express their wants and needs are in bondage to their emotions and lack self-control. An enslaving addiction to whining does not make for a happy child. However, children who learn to communicate properly learn that self-control is a prerequisite for contentment, joy, and good living.
While parents agree that whining is an annoying and inappropriate form of communication, many simply do not know how to address it. Here are some helpful tips on what not to do when your children whine, as well as a plan you can use to establish healthier patterns of communication in your home.
Wrong Ways to Handle Whining
Scolding. According to the Bible, scolding is an angry response that will stir anger in the heart of your child: “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Prov. 15:1). A mom who responds to whining by yelling, “Stop that whining right now, or you’re going to get it!” is training in anger and not modeling the self-control that she so desperately desires her child to learn. Correcting wrong behavior should never be an “I’ll show you” or a “Boy, you’re going to get it now” mentality. It should be given with an attitude of “I love you too much to allow you to live an undisciplined life.”
Ignoring and/or giving in. Parents have a responsibility to train their children in wisdom for daily living. When children whine, it should be viewed as a precious opportunity to train them in self-control, not as a frustrating moment of inconvenience for mom or dad. To ignore them is to shirk your responsibility to train them. To give in by granting them what they whine for is to reward and reinforce wrong behavior.
Whining is a Heart Issue
The Bible teaches that wrong behavior is merely the outward manifestation of the real problem—the heart: “For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of” (Matt. 12:34b). A wise parent will reach past the outward behavior and address the issue of the heart, which in the case of whining is self-control and discontentment. The Bible also teaches that parents are to bring their children up in the “training and instruction of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4). This requires that we not only correct them for wrong behavior but that we help them evaluate the heart of the matter and instruct them in right behavior. Therefore, we must take it a step further than merely telling them not to whine. We must teach them to communicate with self-control and what it means to have a heart of gratitude. Encourage your child to have a grateful heart by asking, “What can you thank God for in this situation?”
Three-Step Plan for Whine-Free Living
Step One: Ask your child if he is speaking with a self-controlled voice. You might ask, “Sweetheart, are you asking for juice with a self-controlled voice? God wants you to use self-control, even with your voice.”
Step Two: Explain that it is love that motivates you to train him. You might say, “Honey, I love you too much to allow you to speak foolishly. Here’s what I’m going to do to help you learn self-control. I’m going to set a timer, and when the buzzer goes off in three minutes, you may come back and ask for juice the right way.” Fun, kid-friendly timers are available at GingerHubbard.com.
Step Three: Follow through. When the buzzer goes off, have the child come back and ask for juice with a self-controlled voice. It may be necessary to demonstrate the correct way to speak to help your child along. In doing this, you are correcting him for wrong and, more important, training him in what is right.
If your child asks for something with a self-controlled voice and the answer is no, and then the child whines, you have an issue of willful defiance on your hands. This is not the time to have her ask again but to administer consequences. After consequences, however, I encourage you to walk the child through how she should have responded to your answer.
This method is effective for teaching children who ask for things in whiny voices and for children who use whiny voices as a general means of communicating. For example, if a child says in a whiny voice, “I don’t like that color” or “My doll stroller isn’t rolling right,” she’s not necessarily asking for something, but she is inappropriately communicating her thoughts and feelings. Whining, in this case, is simply words spoken with a bad attitude, reflecting a lack of self-control. Don’t indulge the child by responding to her topic, but guide her to an acceptable form of communication.
Begin with the same sort of question: “Are you talking with a self-controlled voice?” Let them know that Mommy will only talk about this with them if they speak with self-control. Then follow through with biblical reproof and training in right communication, modeling it if necessary.
Avoid Power Struggles
If the child refuses to come back and ask the right way, perhaps deciding that he doesn’t want the juice after all, don’t force him to come back when the buzzer goes off, as that can encourage a power struggle. Simply don’t offer the juice and let it go. However, the next time he does ask for juice (or something else) in a whiny voice, repeat steps one through three again.
Be consistent in training, never give in to whining, and follow through with this plan each and every time an opportunity presents itself, and you’ll have a whine-free life and a more joyful, self-controlled child before you know it!
Ginger Hubbard, bestselling author of Don’t Make Me Count to Three, Chloe and the Closet of Secrets: A Children’s Book About Lying, and I Can’t Believe You Just Said That, speaks at women’s events, parenting conferences, and homeschool conventions and co-hosts the Parenting with Ginger Hubbard podcast. Visit her website at GingerHubbard.com.