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Inspired from my previous question, but distilled to be more specific:

What types of parenting would cause a child to become a "whiner?" By this, I mean that the child becomes someone who tends to use complaining to authority figures (exaggerating the difficulties s/he is facing) as the first choice for resolving problems.

Where I come from, the "common wisdom" seems to be that comforting a child for things that "shouldn't" require comfort (like minor pain from bumping one's head) encourages this behavior, and that the preferred method is to not "give in" to the child's cries for attention. Is this true?

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3 Answers

up vote 11 down vote accepted

Actually there are theories that contradict what you guys are saying. None of you are citing any sources for your theories.

For instance: children might exaggerate their plight since you won't listen to minor gripes.

Telling a tired, hungry and upset kid to speak in its normal voice... well, hasn't worked for me.

Do you guys want to know what has worked?

Mirroring. I reflect back what my children (only my eldest daughter speaks) say, confirming to them that I have listened. Then they might whine some more and I reflect some more. And then after a while, they figure a solution out themselves.

This also works with adults.

Actual example from today:

  • Daddy, I want to sit in the stroller (we were going to the playground and I have spoilt my eldest with the stroller for far to much) - said in a sad, whiny voice.

  • You want to sit in the stroller, I see, but we can manage the walk, I think

  • But I have tired legs, I can't waaalk
  • You have tired legs. How does that feel?
  • I want to have my pacifier (she had lost it earlier)!
  • You want to have your pacifier, I know. I wish I had it, but I don't.
  • WAAAAAH, WAAAAH, WAAAAAH.

Ok, that didn't really end well. ;-)

It doesn't always, if by "well" one means no crying or whining. What happened was that I kept reflecting and made her walk along, keeping my temper - and hers. It didn't escalate and this is a kid that really is addicted to her pacifier and it was after dinner so she was real tired.

And after a while she was distracted since we were out on a walk. Cats passed by, there were flowers... everything worked out.

This whole evening started with her crying in bed from losing her pacifier. I just reflected that back to her, same as above, and instead of crying, all of a sudden she says:

  • I want to suck your thumb!

So I let her. After a while she concluded that it was no pacifier, nor tasty, so we went and had dinner instead.

So, I don't give in to whining, this I agree with. But the whining comes from some kind of need and you as a parent need to confirm that your kids needs are at least registering.

I have been doing this for a while and THIS really works. I bet having your kids take timeouts might work, but that is shutting them out... I just don't really believe in that.

Try different approaches. I prefer the ones were my blood pressure is about level and my kids calm down.

Read more about it here: http://www.codinghorror.com/blog/2012/06/how-to-talk-to-human-beings.html

Also, not comforting your kid when it has hurt itself... I don't know. If my kids come to me for various reasons, I receive them with open arms. We sit down and I try not to make that big of a deal of their injuries, but helping them cope with the pain and telling them that it will pass. I don't feel that my kids are more whiny when it comes to getting hurt. I think it's important not to freak out yourself, not to make a big deal from a bump or a bruise, but also to NOT deny your children affection, human touch and being close. If you push them away when they need you near, they won't get tough. They will be sad and close up and hide their emotions. By making them feel secure after bumping a knee, you signal them that getting hurt isn't that bad, someone will comfort you, the pain goes away and you can go play again.

Oh, and also, don't feed them candy on a daily basis. ;-)

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As I was reading this, I immediately thought of Jeff's recent blog entry, and was planning on adding the link in a comment until I saw you included it in the answer :) +1! –  Beofett Jun 18 '12 at 18:08
    
I like this answer. I'd like it more if you provided the references that you indicate other answers are missing. –  afrazier Jun 18 '12 at 23:57
    
Heh, I had read that blog post just a few hours prior...interesting to see someone else who already uses it. –  Kelsey Rider Jun 19 '12 at 9:26
    
works well on adults too :) –  Nat Jun 21 '12 at 3:45
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That is a part of it. When children know that, when they whine, they get what they want, they'll use their new tool. To discourage it, you have to show them that whining doesn't get them what they want:

  • Ignore minor whining - Basic Pavlovian behavior modification; reward good behavior, ignore bad behavior. If they're whining about general "the world isn't fair because I didn't get my way" stuff, then as long as the situation can be ignored, do so.
  • Escalation = time-out - Kids learn pretty quickly that when Mommy gets embarrassed at their antics, she'll give them what they want to shut them up. Don't give in, even when whining becomes screaming. Most passersby will be tolerant to a degree, but if you feel the situation is spiraling out of control, remove the child from the situation and put them in time-out until they calm down. Don't get angry, don't get frustrated, just deal with your child.
  • Tell them to speak normally - If they have a legitimate gripe or concern, but are whining when they tell you, tell them to say it in their normal voice without whining. If they do, reward them in some way (even if you can't give them what they're asking for). If they don't, ignore it (unless they're whining about something like "Tommy set the couch on fire").
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Consistency is also an important part of this: both parents have to stick to the same line, denying the opportunity for the child to say, "But Mom lets me do this!" (regardless of its truth).

My wife says "I can't understand when you use that voice," and the kids generally drop into a normal tone immediately. (If you say "I can't hear you when you talk like that," they just whine louder. I learned that the hard way!)

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