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Nurturing a Whiny Child

How to handle a child who whines

Your child winds up from a whimper, to a plea, to a whine — the sound surest to make a parent crack. A psychologist, a day care provider, and a mother offer a guided tour of the whine country.

Carolyn Crowder, Ph.D., co-author of Whining: 3 Steps to Stopping It Before the Tears and Tantrums Start, Tucson, Arizona:"My three steps to stop whining are: consequences, assertiveness, and contribution. Consequences means whining gets a consistent no; even if whining in a restaurant means you get up and leave. Assertiveness means calmly telling a child what you expect from them; saying you know they can do better, which shows respect. Contribution means giving a child tasks that let him feel like he's making an important contribution to the family. All kids want to feel like they belong and have a say in the family. Feeling like you belong is an antidote to misbehavior."

Audra Jung, lead teacher, Seward Child-Care Center, Minneapolis, Minnesota:"One thing I see parents doing the right way is reflecting the emotion that the child is having. Validating their emotions, paying attention, and saying, 'I can see you're angry because you thought you were going to have more blocks,' is in effect saying, 'I can see you have something to tell me.' That's when you teach them the skills they need to communicate. Even 3-year-olds can have control of their emotions, but it takes coaching. They're not trying to make you mad: Some need is not being met. The wrong thing is to let the whining trigger you — that just shows that the parent is unable to deal with the situation."

Julie Comes, mother of Maddie, 10, Mikayla, 7, and Collin, 4, Lewistown, Montana:"When Collin's sisters are at school and we're alone, and I have to do something, then the whining comes — so we have a place where he goes and sits until he can talk to me in a 4-year-old voice. This works because he just likes to be included. Or I'll encourage him to use different voices. I'll say, 'Can I hear that in a monster voice?' With any of the kids, I try to redirect them from why they're frustrated. I'll make a funny face, and they'll laugh. Distract and refocus. Or if they stomp off, I'll say, 'Stomp for five more minutes.' Or if one of the girls sighs, I say, 'Sigh 20 times.' It ends up in a giggle fit."

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