Thursday, November 02, 2006

Children: Ways to Deal with Whining or Fussiness

In yesterday's post, I mentioned that there are times when moms and children can feel a bit peevish. Perhaps, everyone has been trapped inside by illness or the weather. Or, maybe guests have come to stay for a holiday and the family hasn't had enough relaxing time alone together. Here's a list of some suggestions that I found helped with my children, when they were tempted to whine or fuss. Some, I learned through trial and error; most were things I learned from books or -- from my favorite source -- older godly women.

Keep in mind, I am just a mom and not a professional expert in child behavior. So, take what works for you and your family, and don't worry about the rest.

(Note, for convenience sake, I'm going to refer to a child as "he". But, these suggestions are meant for girls and for boys.)

1) Crying and fussiness are low-level forms of crying. A child who fusses or whines is trying to get your attention through these behaviors. He may be doing this because he has a need or a desire he can't express. Or, he may be doing it simply to get you to notice him.
2) True crying can be healthy. A child's tears alert us that our child is in need or in danger, so that we can comfort or protect the child. Also, tears help a child release feelings such as fear, anger, fatigue, or hurt. Of course, it is possible for a child to over-indulge in tears or to cry those famous "croccodile" ones. But, an honest cry now and again can do a child (or an adult) a world of good.
3) By contrast, whining and fussiness are unhealthy ways to express emotions. Our goal is to help our child learn how to state wants and needs without resorting to these behaviors.
4) The first thing to do when a child fusses or whines is to make sure his needs are met. Does the child need a nourishing snack? A nap? A dry diaper? A hug? A listening ear? Is he teething? Does he have an earache?
5) On the other hand, it's easy for busy moms to reinforce whining without realizing it. If we tune into our children only when their whining breaks our concentration on some task, we teach them that whining is the way to get our attention. Thus, they will whine more and more until it becomes a habit. To counter this, we need to be alert to a child's initial attempts to get our attention. We need to acknowledge him before he resorts to whining. We can either meet the need right away or ask him to wait until we are through. Then, we can go calmly back to our task. Also, we need to give our child positive attention when he is happy and content. Every so often, we can stop our tasks to cast a smile our child's way or to say something positive and pleasant. We can take a few moments to notice something that he is coloring or building with blocks. We can sit down to read a book together.
6) If your child makes a request and you say no, do not allow your child continue to whine and whine about it. Send the child to a quiet place to think and allow him to return when he is ready to be pleasant. Also, do not let a child's whining manipulate you into saying "yes" to a request that goes against your better judgment. Remember, consistenly enforcing appropriate guidelines helps make for a happy child. Letting a child's whining control both you and him only makes him unhappy in the long run.
7) Children often become whiny or peevish if they do not get enough fresh air, sunshine, and freedom to move around. Children are by nature full of wonderful, delightful energy. They function best when they express this energy in creative outdoor play. Find a way to provide your child with such an outlet. Even if you live in a tiny city apartment, find a safe park and take your child their for daily outings. If a long string of bad weather keeps you and your child indoors, find creative ways to move around. Put on DVD's and hop and dance to the music. Even on cold, sunny days, a healthy, warmly dressed child can enjoy playing outdoors.
8) A soothing bubble bath in which the child can play with bath toys can ease a whiny mood. Even if it's not your child's scheduled bath time, a soak and a splash in a sudsy tub can do wonders.
9) When a generally happy child whines, moms can usually pick up on what's wrong. Perhaps, you are running errands, but the child is tired and bored and wants to go home Or, maybe the child was kept up past his usual bedtime the night before. Express sympathy for a child's feelings. But, do not give your child the idea that a minor discomfort is an excuse to whine. It's far better to say something like, "Oh, Suzy, are you tired? I understand. You were up past your bedtime last night. We'll get you home soon, so that you can rest. But, right now, even though you are tired, you can still be polite to Mrs. Smith." Or, fill in whatever positive goal you want to reinforce. Of course, if a child is teething or sick, he may not be able to control his fussiness very well. Make some allowances here. But, through the years, gently help your child understand that just because we are tired, hungry, or otherwise uncomfortable does not give us license to whine, fuss, or snap at others. There are better ways to deal with these issues.
10) Once a child has mastered the word, "please," do not allow him to fuss, whine, or throw a tantrum to ask for a toy, a drink, or something to eat. Ask him, "What do you say?" If he is frustrated with not being able to communicate well or is in some other way upset, help him to calm down. Refuse to give him the desired item until he says, "please." If the child hasn't yet learned the name of the desired item, he may point to it and say, "please". You can say the name of the item as you hand it to him, to help him increase his vocabulary. But, above all, help the child to stay calm and to get out a polite word or two. This teaches the child that it is ok to ask for things, but also that there is a polite and pleasant way to get your requests across to another person.
11) As your child grows, teach him how to deal with emotions -- even anger -- in respectful and healthy ways. We taught our children that they could say anything to us -- provided that they maintained respect for God and for us. Sometimes, well-meaning parents don't allow their children to ever verbalize anger or other negative emotions. This is not healthy for the child. If you read the psalms, you see that David was open about all kinds of emotions and that he worked these feelings out in his prayers to God. There is a reason why God gave us the capacity to feel all kinds of things, such as anger, sadness, fear, joy, excitement, gratitude, love. The trick is to learn how to handle these emotions in ways that please God, rather than to let emotions control us. Children need to learn how to make emotions their servants and not their masters. Children who can identify what they are feeling and take that feeling to God or to talk about it with a loving parent feel less need to whine or complain.
12) Keep an eye on whining throughout the child's growing years. We were consistent in helping our children communicate without whining when they were very young. Then, when they got to be about eleven or twelve, we slacked off for a time. It was easy for me, espeically, to let them make requests on the fly, without noticing their tone of voice. So, we had to regain our focus, and train them to make requests respectfully. As the child matures, he needs to keep maturing in how he communicates.
13) Here's the most obvious place to start: We set the example for them. (Aren't we all saying "ouch" right now!) Your children will mimic what they hear and see you do. If you complain a lot, they will complain. If you manipulate your husband through nagging or wearing him down with your requests, they will whine to you. On the flip side, if you remain calm and pleasant, even though you have a slight headache, your children will follow suit. They will learn how from your example to meet life's little disappointments and pains with complaining. As we said yesterday, if you are finding yourself feeling edgy or peevish, take steps to help improve your own frame of mind. Then, you will be able to help your children.
14) You are doing your child a favor by helping him learn to communicate without whining or fussiness. Both children and adults who persist in whining or fussing are often perceived as being immature and unpleasant. Conversely, people who express themselves calmly, reasonably, pleasantly, and, when appropriate, with gentle firmness are perceived as being enjoyable and worthy of respect.
15) Pray!



Mrs Blythe said...

These are good suggestions. My children are prone to whining when they are bored. Fresh air or a bath are always winners in cheering them up :o) And you are right, we are the best examples to our children.

Elizabeth said...

Hi Mrs. Blythe,

There's nothing like fresh air, is there?

Susanne said...

Thanks for visiting my place today and leaving a comment! You have a very nice little site here. I love the pictures. And a good lesson today!

Elizabeth said...

Thanks for stopping by, Susannze. Ps: I loved the graphics on your site.