“I can’t understand you when you whine,” is a commonly recommended response to children’s whining. Even though I have used it at times, when whining felt like it was going to drive me crazy (and I thought that was what I was “supposed” to say), it never really felt right to me. It felt, first of all, untrue (of course I could understand what my child was saying; I just didn’t like how it sounded) and, second of all, like it was missing the point.
I am so glad that Deborah MacNamara wrote this blog post that really gets to the heart of our children’s whining. First of all, it validates how actually deeply irritating whining is (!), but then goes on to explore why this way of talking was designed to get our attention so strongly (because our children need our help in these moments).
Dr. MacNamara explains so clearly a concept of Dr. Gordon Neufeld’s that I think is so important: the idea that when our children are frustrated, we need to either help them change what can be changed OR to shed tears about what cannot be changed. The latter scenario is one we so often forget as parents. We so much want to make things go the right way for our kids (both out of love and also out of our fear of their upset, anger and, yep, whining) that we forget the important growth that comes from things not going their way. Frustrations turning to tears are the building blocks of resilience.
So, the next time your child whines, try not to focus so much on getting them to stop whining; instead, look underneath the whining to see what you can help them change, or what you can help them cry about. And, after making this your practice, the whining will lessen and the resilience will grow.