Bedtime Stories for Whiners.
September 10, 2010 10:11 AM   Subscribe

Are there any great books out there about whining? My toddler is well on her way to becoming a regional champ & it's a problem.

Maybe I'm over-thinking it, but I feel like some portion of the problem is that she just doesn't understand what it is that I want. Obviously "don't whine" isn't slowing her down a bit, but when I say "ask nicely" or "use your big girl voice," she starts whining or shouting "PLLLLLEEEEAAAASSE!" Punishments (like being carted to her bed & told to stay there until she's better ble to cope) generally improve the immediate behavior, but overall her behavior seems to be getting worse.

Looking for two types of books:

1) Something that might help ME figure out a game plan/direct me to more effective strategies for straightening this out.

2) Are there any little-kid books that might help her understand the concept?

Non-book suggestions are also welcome.
posted by Ys to Grab Bag (24 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
I can't offer any specific book suggestions, but I would suggest asking your friendly neighborhood children's librarian where your library's bibliotherapy section is, if they have one. Even if they don't, they're probably well-equipped to give you toddler-appropriate suggestions for books about not-whining.
posted by naturalog at 10:18 AM on September 10, 2010

I had a co-worker who used to say that she couldn't hear the whiny voice and then just ignored her kids until they used a tone that she found more acceptable. FWIW, her kids ended up really well behaved.
posted by jefeweiss at 10:20 AM on September 10, 2010 [13 favorites]

It sounds like you need Supernanny.
posted by Solomon at 10:20 AM on September 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

People seem to buy Joy Berry's book, Help Me Be Good: Whining. The Help Me Be Good series makes me laugh because it looks like it's about how to be good at whining, fighting, being a tattetale, etc., but there must be a reason it's popular with parents.

Parents I know say they have success by telling their kids, "I can't hear you when you talk like that."
posted by BibiRose at 10:25 AM on September 10, 2010

We had my mom's copy of this book around when I was a kid - Manners Can Be Fun . I gather that it has been updated for the 21st century, and there is definitely a bit about whining.
posted by purlgurly at 10:26 AM on September 10, 2010

I had a co-worker who used to say that she couldn't hear the whiny voice and then just ignored her kids until they used a tone that she found more acceptable.

This is what we do with our daughter, and it works very well. We also make sure that we give her the specific language that she needs to make it right. All she needs to do at that point is simply reproduce what we told her to say, with a better tone, and she's golden. She usually prefers that to whining with no forthcoming feedback from us. Initially, she would press this issue a bit. But not giving in on our part, coupled with her practicing it over time, does eventually create changed behavior.

I'm sorry though, I don't have a good book to suggest. But I thought you might like this suggestion, which I would put in my own book if I wrote one.
posted by SpacemanStix at 10:31 AM on September 10, 2010

My kids don't whine, but it's not like I think I'm SuperDad or something. But I look at other parents with whiny kids, and they all seem to have the same mindset that there's some kind of negotiation happening. There isn't. You are THE LAWGIVER, not a salesperson.

This is not effective:
- I want a cookie.
- No.
- No.
- I don't listen to your whining. Use your big girl voice.

You're negotiating, even though you think you're saying "No." You're saying, "No, you cannot have a cookie now. But there IS a situation in which you could have a cookie. You just haven't followed the right steps." This leads to the kid whining and experimenting and pushing ALL your buttons in an attempt to find the right combination.

This is what you want:
- I want a cookie.
- We don't have cookies at Time X for Reason Y.
- Stop it. I have already answered your question. Now you are acting inappropriately. If you keep acting this way, XYZ will happen.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 10:32 AM on September 10, 2010 [37 favorites]

You generally get the behaviour you pay attention to, so if you don't want whining, ignore it completely. That means nothing: no punishment, no "don't whine", just absolute deafness. And absolute worse thing to do is to ignore until she gets *more* whiny and then break down and pay attention. That just teaches persistence.

The other half of this is that you *do* pay attention to the behaviour you want, or even an approximation of it. So, especially at first, the slightest decrease in whining tone get praise and attention from you and at least an honest consideration of whatever she's asking for. As she gets better at asking you'll up your standard for what you reward, but at the beginning you want to be pretty liberal in your definition of nice asking, so she gets to experience success.
posted by timeistight at 10:42 AM on September 10, 2010

Nthing the "I'm sorry, I can't understand your voice when you talk like that" idea. Worked perfectly with my kid.
posted by BlahLaLa at 10:45 AM on September 10, 2010

Cool Papa Bell - there's two kinds of whining. The first is the one you are talking about. The kid is asking for something they can't have, is told "no", and then they start complaining. Your response is correct here, IMHO (I say this as a guy without kids, which makes me an expert). The second is the one where the kid is asking for something that they can have, but doesn't do it politely. There, I think, the correct response is some form of negotiation ("You may have some juice if you ask a little more politely").
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 10:53 AM on September 10, 2010

I was a champion whiner, until my mother told me that she couldn't hear me when I used that voice and I suddenly realized that using it wasn't helpful (to me) or pleasant (to my mother). I don't remember when this happened, but it had a big enough impact on me that I still remember it now, over 3 decades later.
posted by pammeke at 10:57 AM on September 10, 2010

nthing the above.

I just watched my SIL deal with this brilliantly. Her son was asking her a question in a whiny voice, and she just kept saying earnestly, "I'm sorry, honey, I can't understand." After the third time, he straightened himself up and asked the same question in a normal voice. (I'm assuming she had warned him in the past that she couldn't understand whiny voices.) Well, she didn't have to get into any kind of a battle with him and she didn't have to raise her voice, reprimand him, or show her frustration. Sure, it's a bit disingenuous to pretend like that, but otherwise it was a win-win situation.
posted by Knowyournuts at 10:58 AM on September 10, 2010

I had a co-worker who used to say that she couldn't hear the whiny voice and then just ignored her kids until they used a tone that she found more acceptable. FWIW, her kids ended up really well behave

I used this method with mine and it does help.

I also had a rule that if you whined the answer was automatically no (I think this works better for slightly older children.)

And yes, if they whine AND nag when you have said no, that is considered disobedience and should be handled however you handle other disobedience.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 11:03 AM on September 10, 2010 [2 favorites]

The second is the one where the kid is asking for something that they can have, but doesn't do it politely. There, I think, the correct response is some form of negotiation ("You may have some juice if you ask a little more politely").

I see the point and agree. I will say, though, that whining is generally a learned tactic, and if it's learned to be successful in one form of interaction, it will attempted in another. And kids don't know and don't care -- they're whining because somewhere, somehow, they've been (inadvertently) taught that whining is the "transactional price" they must pay to get juice (or whatever is it they want).
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 11:10 AM on September 10, 2010

I would just add that you play a whiny voice/polite voice game. Take a stuffed animal and ask your daughter to make the animals ask for cookie in a whiny voice. Challenge her to make it even more whiny. Then ask her to have the animal ask in polite voice If she isn't sure, suggest some things that would make it more polite. Then she experiment and see what you do if the animal uses its whiny voice vs it polite voice. Animal asks and you respond to the animal appropriately depending on which voice it uses. Practice asking for things you can give and for things you can't give. This helps her to understand what you want and to know what to expect from you.

If she is still toddler then she may need to be reminded (what someone upstream talked about in terms of feeding her the correct lines.) This might sound like: I don't listen to whiny voices. If you said "please may have a cookie" in polite voice, I would hear that and we could find out if this was a good time to have a cookie. Note that you are not promising the cookie. If she asks in a nice voice, you might still say no - maybe like this "thank you for using a polite cookie. I understand that you would like a cookie but we don't have treats right before dinner. Would you a cookie after dinner? (or if there are no cookies on the horizon, suggest a different redirect - would you like to help me wash vegetables?"
posted by metahawk at 11:11 AM on September 10, 2010

Model the "good voice" in really short sentences, and then when she uses it, reward her by giving her what she wants (obviously within reason). The modeling is important.

Her: [whiny] I need juice!
You: Can you say it like this? "Juice, please".

Then either this:

Her: Noooooo!
You: Okay, no juice then. [ignore anything else, she'll calm herself down eventually]


Her: [making a good effort to imitate you]: Juice, please!
You: Nice asking! I'll get you some juice.


You: Sorry, no juice. Would you like [a reasonable alternative, or something else she likes]?
posted by the young rope-rider at 11:15 AM on September 10, 2010

I put "Can you say it like this?" but it's probably better to just make that a statement: "Say it like this:" so it's clear that it's not an option.
posted by the young rope-rider at 11:16 AM on September 10, 2010

"Toddler" is a big age group when you consider the difference between a two year-old and a four year-old. In case your toddler is on the younger end (Cool Papa Bell's argument about using logic/consequence with your kid won't really work on a two year-old) teach her about Deep Breaths and Calm Voice. This is how I do it:

TODDLER [whiny voice]: Bear! Bear!! BEAAAAARRRRRR!!
ME: You want your teddy bear! First, you have to take a deep breath.
[We both hold our breath and exhale]
ME: Now, use your caaaaalm voice. Tell me what you want in the calm voice.

I don't think punishing really young toddlers for "whining" is all that effective. They're still learning to communicate their basic needs, and it generally confuses them when they're trying to tell you stuff and you refuse to listen, and that communication block generally escalates their frustration, which increases whining, which annoys you further. Give them constructive, positive material to work with ("Hey! It annoys me when you use this tone of voice, so let's take deep breaths, do a calm voice, and then let's get down to what you actually want.") instead of simply saying that whining isn't allowed and you won't entertain her requests when she does it.

I hate hate hate hate whining, but giving in to my irritation and simply snapping "No whining! You can't get the bear til you stop whining!" never did me in any favors.
posted by zoomorphic at 11:33 AM on September 10, 2010 [8 favorites]

"IF In case your toddler is on the younger end"
posted by zoomorphic at 11:34 AM on September 10, 2010

I was a professional mentor for a few years, and we used a method called "Collaborative Problem Solving" with great success. I liked the method because it codified a lot of my own intuition about how to handle difficult situations with chilren into a step by step method that I could remember in times of stress. It's also very proactive -- working on problems when the problem isn't present -- to help reduce times of stress. I'd recommend it for dealing with whining or any other problem behavior.

The basic premise is to look for the underlying reason for the behavior, and to address that in order to get a durable solution. Whining is a perfectly normal strategy for a child to get what she wants or needs. It takes practice to learn the skills of understanding and communicating your needs, and as a parent you can try to see which skills need to be developed. Does your child have trouble understanding what her needs are? Does she know what she wants but only knows one way to communicate that to you? Are some of her emotions (frustration, anger, etc) too complicated for her to communicate right now? Once you know what the underlying issue is, you can start to work with your child to build the missing skills. Collaborative Problem Solving offers a method for selecting and working on those skills together with your child.

The basics are laid out in this book, which is geared toward working with "explosive children" -- but which provides tools that I think work with just about anyone (I've tried this with adults and it works quite well). Other information is available at the CPS website.

As a youth worker who has spent time with many difficult children, I highly recommend this tool for anyone with kids or working with kids. It provides a really useful perspective for interacting with youth and with people in general.
posted by cubby at 11:39 AM on September 10, 2010 [7 favorites]

Nthing the "I'm sorry, I can't understand your voice when you talk like that" idea. Worked perfectly with my kid.

From the pedant department: you CAN understand her. If you say you can't, you're lying.

Sorry, I was a very literal-minded kid, and I'm a pretty literal-minded grownup. Your kid may be fine with you talking that way, but this was exactly the sort of wording that made me mistrust many grownups. I KNEW it was bullshit. I knew that they were lying to me. Of COURSE they could understand me. I got so obsessed with the wording, I didn't hear the "don't whine" message. And I still don't get why people have the desire to talk this way to kids when they could just as easily say something like...

"I'm sorry, I don't respond to people when they talk like that"?
posted by grumblebee at 1:54 PM on September 10, 2010 [2 favorites]

This may sound terrible, but it worked on me: make fun of her whining. No, seriously -- my mother was very kind and took everything I said seriously when I was little, but I did have a whining problem as an older child. I remember that when she would say lightly, "Oh, honey, come on, do you hear what you sound like? Mwaa waaa WAAAaaa -- !" I would start laughing, and quiet down.
posted by Countess Elena at 3:16 PM on September 10, 2010

I heard a great one from my camp director I have been trying out on BabyHotBot to try and cut out the whining.

Me: hey kid, would you please do X?
kid: *doesnt do X*

Me: kid! Do X!
kid: *doesnt do X*

Me: I've asked you once and I've told you once, next time there are going to be consequences.
kid: p= 0.9 *does X*
p=0.1 *doesn't do X and gets consequences*
posted by shothotbot at 9:25 PM on September 10, 2010

Hey guys, thanks for all the great feedback, books & ideas. Have been to the library. So far, though, the number one thing I've gotten from all this is that consistency is something I need to work on. I also changed the phrasing: Instead of saying "Ask Nicely" or "No whining," I'm saying "Use your Big Girl voice" and "You're using your Ugly voice." For some reason, this seems to make a lot of difference --or maybe it's just my increased commitment to stopping the behavior? Not sure. But I thought y'all might like to know that you've helped. Really loved the bear idea: We had some fun with that the other day.
posted by Ys at 7:37 PM on September 16, 2010

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