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Not a fine "whine".

"BUT MOOOOOOM, I don't waaaaaaanna" "Why caaaan't I have a snaaaaaack?" "That's not faaaaaiiiiir!" (Did just reading those phrases make your skin crawl?) As any parent can confirm, whining is one of the most irritating sounds on earth--literally. In fact, a recent study confirms that whining has more power to distract (men, women, parents, and nonparents alike) than the screech of a table saw snagged on a piece of wood, or even the cries of an infant. The coauthors of the study believe that whining is an evolutionary mechanism. Much like a siren or alarm, whining gets your attention. Since you cannot ignore it and remain productive, you are forced to put things aside and see if anything actually is wrong.

Evolutionary roots or not, though, you do not have to grit your teeth and put up with this grating tone of voice. There are proven tactics you can use to keep whining (more or less) at bay. You never will eradicate whining in your household entirely--even adults do it to one degree or another. However, the peak "whine years" are from two and one-half to four years old. This coincides with the age when children first attempt to communicate with words, and tapers off when they begin to have command of language and self-expression.

In other words, annoying as it is, whining often is your child trying to tell you something. That does not mean you should respond to every whimper but, you can, and should, use whining episodes to teach your child more productive communication habits. There is a balance between addressing your child's real needs and redirecting unwanted behavior. Having a solid strategy for teaching your children good communication skills as early as possible will work wonders for your sanity and set your children on the road to successful communications throughout life.

Here are tips to help minimize whining while giving your little ones more "grownup" tools to ask for what they want:

Be consistent. For all humans--regardless of age--almost any behavior will be repeated if there is a payoff and, over time, repeated behavior becomes a habit. Yes, I admit, at one time or another, we all reach the point where we are willing to hand over the candy bar or buy a particular toy just to make the whining stop but you have to remember, if whining sometimes works and sometimes does not, you will keep hearing it. In fact, children usually will go for the "maybe payoff' loophole and whine more often in hopes of getting their way.

Mixed signals not only confuse the child, they add to your workload by forcing you to address and readdress the same issues--talk about a good reason to whine.

Use the "me no speak whine" excuse. Who says children are the only people allowed to play make-believe? Pretending that you cannot understand whining is a great way to stop this behavior in its tracks. If my children are whining, I say, "Excuse me. I can't understand you. I don't speak whine. That sounds like cjoaliudfsoiuewj to me. What are you saying?' Usually, the next request is a bit clearer. "It sounds like you're saying you'd like some juice, but it still sort of sounds like cixooijc." That gets them laughing. The tension lessens, and the conversation begins. "Ah! Now I understand. Of course you can have some juice. Thank you for asking so nicely."

Try it. Also, the time-honored phrase, "Use your words," is a great family code to shift a whine into a request.

Teach through play. Toddlers do not have a strong sense of self-awareness and, from their pint-sized perspectives, the world really does revolve around them. That is why they often do not know that they are whining or understand why it is not desirable. Sometimes, it helps if they can see themselves through a playful medium, like role-playing with dolls or action figures.

Another tactic I use is to imitate the droning plea in a comical way, then ask, "What if Mommy talked like that? What would work better?" Then, I will suggest a better way to make the request. "Now you try." This type of playful interchange gets kids' attention and allows them to look at their behavior from a safe and positive vantage point.

Reward "good" attention getting. Anytime your children use their developing communication skills to ask for something nicely without being prompted, reward them with your attention and respond to the request if at all possible. The payoff is important, especially when you see them using the tools you are trying to teach them.

Be sure to mention how great it is and how proud you are that your child communicated so beautifully. A simple, "I like how you said that" can make your child's day--as well as reinforce the desired behavior.

Help find the right words. Negative emotions are hard for anyone to deal with and, for toddlers, being angry or frustrated especially is tough because they do not have the words to say what is upsetting them. The result is whining.

Gently guide your little one through the storm with phrases like: "Are you mad because...?" As your kids learn the "how-tos" of communicating, you will find that whining is less likely to be their go-to communication method, because finding the words to describe how they are feeling becomes easier.

Know--and be prepared for--whining triggers. Chances are your child's whining does not always come out of the blue. Instead, it is triggered by specific circumstances during which it is hard to be reasonable, like feeling hungry or being tired. If you suspect that your child is reaching the point where whining will start, decide beforehand how to handle the problem.

My four-year-old son, for instance, often asks for an appetite-spoiling snack right before dinner. When I say "no," that is when the whining starts--primarily because my son actually is hungry, not because I would not give him the specific food he asked for. I know from experience this is not the time for an upsetting showdown. If dinner is five minutes away or less, I will say, "I know how you feel. I'm hungry, too. Could you help me set the table so that we can eat?" If dinner is going to be 15 minutes or more later, I will offer him a less filling snack to tide him over. Goldfish crackers are perfect. They are both healthy and tiny. You even can play a counting game: "You can have five. Can you count them while Mommy stirs the pasta sauce?"

When the pity party starts, practice patience. When whining reaches a fever pitch, it is tempting to shout, "Stop whining right now!" Take a deep breath, though, and resist the urge. The truth is, this command rarely works; instead, it usually upsets your child more. After all, your daughter is whining because she wants something. When you only address what you want--silence and a little peace--you are not offering your child a real solution.

That said, children usually start whining because a previous request already has been politely ignored. Maybe you are in the middle of a phone call, focused on a project, or rushing through a task. Your child may have quietly asked for what she wants a few times already, and you have said, "Just a minute, honey" several times, too. Remember, though, to a small child, "a minute" does not mean much, because little ones are not good judges of time.

If you are trying to get your child to delay her request and learn to exercise patience while you finish something up, try using a timer. Personally, I prefer the old-fashioned dial kind over digital because the child can see and hear the ticking of time. There are playful visual timers made especially for kids. "Five minutes," I say. "Here: I've set the dial, and it's ticking. When the little bell rings, I'll be done with what I'm doing and we can go do ... xyz." Helping your child get a handle on what patience really is, as well as understanding a bit about time, is a useful tool that will pay off over and over.

Explain the "why." No, very small children cannot follow "adult" reasoning like, "We can't buy that toy because we're saving money for our upcoming vacation." However, as your kids get older, make an effort to help them understand why you are denying their requests. Whining is a lot more likely to occur when you respond with a perfunctory, "No--because I said so, that's why!"

If you can tell that your child is making an effort to ask you for something in a nice or sweet voice but you cannot grant the request, explain why in your most reasonable voice. If possible, offer an alternative option so that your child feels that he has been taken seriously: "Thanks for asking so sweetly, but let's do ... xyz ... instead."

Use "instead" commands. Believe it or not, children hear 400 commands a day and, the truth is, youngsters get just as tired of hearing them as you do of giving them. Especially toward the end of the day, it is not surprising that a "do this; don't do that" direction triggers frustrated, rebellious whining.

Instead of ordering, ask a question and give direction and information. For example: "Do you know what we need to do? Right. It's time to brush our teeth. Do you know what happens when you don't brush? You'll have stinky heath." When kids feel that they are part of the decisionmaking process instead of being told that they "have to" to do something, they will be much more willing to cooperate.

Have a talk about listening. In a moment of calm (not in the midst of Whine-Fest 2016, when the odds of a reasonable discussion occurring are similar to your odds of winning the lottery), talk with your child about the joys of listening to what others ask you to do. When you have this discussion, you may find it helpful to reverse roles hypothetically, with your child asking you to do something, and you granting her request. For instance: "When you ask, 'Mommy can I please have some juice?' isn't it nice when I go get you the juice? I expect the same from you. We have a much better time when we listen to each other, don't we?"

Here is one last piece of advice: take a look at your own behavior, and make sure you are not a whiner yourself. If your kids hear you whining (which you may prefer to call complaining) about how long the checkout line is or how much work you have to do, they will imitate you. Remember, "Do as I say, not as I do" is not an effective parenting strategy. Make sure you are modeling the communication skills you want your children to learn.

While you will not be able to eradicate whining overnight--or once and for all--you can help your children learn to use more productive, less-annoying means of communication. So, do not invest in noise-canceling headphones just yet.

Ivana Cortes, also known as Princess Ivana Pignatelli Aragona Cortes (she is married to Adriano Pignatelli Aragona Cortes, Prince of the Holy Roman Empire), is a featured blogger at Modern Mom; founder of the blog, Princess Ivana--The Modern Princess; and coauthor of A Simple Guide to Pregnancy & Baby's First Year.
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Title Annotation:Life in America
Author:Cortes, Ivana
Publication:USA Today (Magazine)
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 1, 2016
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