Monday, July 22, 2013

Mommy Monday: Enough of the Whining Already

Enough of the Whining Already

WHY DO KIDS WHINE? Because we provide a PAYOFF! When kids whine – we DO SOMETHING and that something offers a payoff that makes the behavior continue.

When children whine, cling or display other annoying attention-seeking behaviors, they are trying to achieve a particular goal, or payoff. These irritating, frustrating, maddening behaviors are actually symptoms of a deeper issue.

All humans are hard-wired with two basic emotional needs – attention and power. The whining and attention-seeking behavior the whining child is displaying is intended to fulfill those two needs.

We also have to remember that children only continue behaviors that “work for them.” That is – they continue behaviors that get results. For a child who whines, clings and displays attention-seeking behaviors, she realizes that “Hey, this is a pretty effective way to get them to pay attention to me” or “Hey, this is a pretty effective tactic for me to get my way”…the child learns that whining provides a payoff. This behavior – if left unaddressed – will continue well into the teenage years.

Every time you pick up a whining child you are providing a payoff for the behavior. He doesn’t hear your frustrated tone or your annoyed remark. He only knows that whining got him what he wanted. Parents essentially “train” their children that if the child is persistent with their whining, they will eventually get their way.

This behavior “works” for the child and so she continues it. When this happens, the parent typically responds by picking up the child to make her stop, or, they respond with a reprimand such as “don’t hang on me”, “don’t be so whiny”, or even “I’ll give you something to cry about.”

Whether the adult response was positive or negative, it fulfilled the child’s need for attention, and therefore the behavior resulted in a payoff. As the frequency of the whining and clinging increases, the parent’s response is almost always a negative reprimand. The child really wanted positive attention; but negative attention is better than none at all. And the cycle continues…whine/cling –> adult reprimand –> attention basket filled with negative attention –> child repeats (“maybe if I keep doing this, I’ll eventually get the positive attention I need) –> parent repeats with negative reprimand, etc.

Here’s the deal…children WILL have their needs for attention met – one way or another. If we don’t fill their attention baskets in positive ways – they will use negative attention-seeking behaviors. They know this works!

If not properly addressed, the attention-seeking behaviors WILL progress into power-seeking behaviors. This is guaranteed. Negative power behaviors may present as talking back, arguing, negotiating, tantrums, yelling, not listening and other power struggles. etc. Or, they may be more passive in nature such as completely ignoring your requests. Your child quickly learns that if his need for positive attention isn’t going to be met – at least he can have power over you by not listening or engaging you in power contests. He sees that it makes you feel angry and powerless. He hasn’t learned to find power in productive ways so instead of allowing himself to feel powerless, he behaves this way because it gives him a sense of control over his world. You may not like it, but it serves your child’s need for personal power.

Parents most often attempt to correct “attention-seeking behaviors” with “attention reprimands”. These might include saying things like, “stop whining”, “use your big-boy voice”, “stop hanging on me”, “fine, have a cookie – just stop whining” “Yes, alright already! You can get the new texting phone”, etc.

Every time we respond to attention-seeking behaviors – it provides an “attention hit”. Remember – the child really wanted positive attention – but in its absence, he’ll take the “negative attention hit” instead.

As attention-seeking behaviors progress to power behaviors, the same thing happens – parents use “power reprimands” to correct “power behaviors”. And guess what? It only makes them worse!

You’re probably thinking, “Well, what am I supposed to do?

There are many layers to this issue, but the first step in the process is to REMOVE THE PAYOFF for whining.

In a calm moment when everyone is in their “happy place”, let your child know that “when he whines, it hurts your ears.” Continue by saying… “When you use your whiny voice, I am not going to respond. I am going to turn around and walk away. When I hear your normal voice – then I’ll be very happy to talk to you.”

Now, you’ve put the child “on notice.” The next times he whines – don’t say a word! (Remember – your verbal feedback or your non-verbal irritation provides a payoff that will make the behavior continue!) Just turn around and calmly walk away.

When he uses his normal voice – respond calmly and pleasantly.

After 2 or 3 times of removing the payoff for the whining, he will realize that he is more likely to get your positive attention when he uses his normal voice.

As I mentioned – there are many layers to this issue. We also have to make sure we’re filling the child’s hard-wired need for attention and positive power – but that’s for another time.

Remember – kids only continue behaviors that “work” for them! Whether your whiner is 3 or 13 – the process of removing the payoff is extremely effective and will go a long way in reducing your parenting stress.

No comments:

Post a Comment