Why your kid may be annoying and whiny- A letter to Lyz Lenz
I write this in response to a blog entry -
http://m.huffpost.com/us/entry/3248085 How to Raise A Kid Who Isn’t Whiny or Annoying.
As a mother who scours Pinterest for crafts and loves putting together birthday parties, I felt slightly uncomfortable, offended even, by your ‘How to’ blog entry. I do not understand the implications exactly, but it appeared to me that you are saying parents who go the extra mile and fuss over ‘first world problems’ with their children will cause the latter to become ‘annoying’ and ‘whiny’. I do, however, appeciate that you meant for the entry to carry self-deprecating humour, and that the original context was in your own blog. But when it is a ’How to’ in the blog section of Huffingtonpost, the medium changes your message. Clearly it has influenced many people, because there were so many ‘likes’ and positive comments.
This entry is a personal opinion that I’ve gathered from own personal and professional experiences- having spoken to numerous parents, worked with them on many problematic family situations, as well as having my very own ‘whiny’ children. I have several reasons to conclude that being whiny has no relationship whatsoever to a parent’s love for crafts.
1. First things first, understand the unmet needs behind the child’s problematic behaviour. When your child acts in a way which annoys you, such as rolling on the floor when you turn off Mickey Mouse, think about what message your child is trying to send you. Is she lacking fun? Is she feeling bored because she is not entertained by anything else. Is she requiring your attention? Chances are, your child is not going to come up and tell you, “Mummy, I need to be stimulated in other ways”. I wish it was that easy.Because these problematic behaviours are signs, not an end behaviour to be ignored.
Instead of walking away because these are ‘first world problems’, speak to her about it. When you address the unmet needs, the problematic behaviour goes away. When I say ‘address’, I don’t mean that you have to meet her needs in a way that sacrifices your own needs. What I mean is, you’ll have to talk her through it. It’s an opportunity for your child to learn how to problem solve. How to have fun without television?
2. Labeling a child as ‘annoying’ and ‘whiny’ is hurtful and regressive to her behaviour. Labeling is one of the most self-fulfilling prophecies of all times. It disregards her unmet needs (see point 1) and it puts a name to her problematic behaviour which, as I said, is a symptom of her problematic feelings.
Behaviour affects feelings, and feelings affect behaviour, psychologists would agree. If you tell her that she whines every time she feels upset, she will make the connection quickly and will whine every time she feels upset. It can become an apocalyptic characteristic that she will carry on throughout her adulthood. So instead of helping your child, you are reinforcing your child’s undesired behaviour. What helps is if you show her alternatives that are acceptable to you to express that feeling of being upset. (See point 5 for an example of an alternative)
3. Your child is 2 years old. My guess is that you wrote the blog entry based on a hypothetical assumption that your 16-year-old child will be whiny if you don’t put up these fancy parties in the future. Good news is, if you are realistic and honest with your child about your own capabilities and needs, your child will not expect an over-the-top party.
4. Your child is 2 years old (I am making a different point). Two-year-old children, in fact most children before their voice breaks, up to the age of 15, do speak in a high-pitched tone to convey their needs. But I get your point, you meant whiny as an overarching label to describe an undesirable behaviour. However, be mindful of when he or she tries to tell you something seemingly unimportant, because it is actually a reflection of a deeper issue.
5. Your child’s personality can define the way they communicate. Some children ‘whine’, some whine less. Their sensitivity to feelings, the way their interpret you or the world, has a bearing over the way they behave. Speaking with a high-pitched voice is the way they are hardwired. If it annoys you, tell them that. And teach them alternative communication skills that are acceptable to you. For example “Breathe in and out. Speak in a lower pitch and volume. Use words like ‘please’.” Say ” Mummy will be able to help you better when I hear your message clearly.”
6. First World problems are real problems too, and they will not go away. This is not Districts 1-12 vs the Capital (referencing Hunger Games) fiction, it’s real life. In fact, ’First World problems’ have become such an important part of the puzzle-piece that to ignore it will be doing your child a disfavor. The gap between the have and have-nots. The technology that has crept into our lives, the things that are now available to us that weren’t around before. Never dismiss annoying behaviours as a ‘first world problem’ because these are communication signs. You don’t want to miss it and have your child give up on communicating with you altogether.
It is entirely possible that 10-15 years down the road, you still find your child whining even though you haven’t put up a single fancy birthday party. Because these 2 are unrelated. It’s not about you being unable to make a decent birthday cake, which i’m sure you will if you find the right recipe and have the right tools, it is about them having a moment and we being there to address it.
From a mother to another- I can understand and empathize with your need and your want to provide what is best for your child while balancing the being-a-responsible-parent aspect of it. We don’t want to knowingly spoil our children, none of us will. There is no parenting standard that I’m advocating here, because there are so many variables at play- socio-economic differences, education, culture, country, gender of parents and children, time, creativity… So you are absolutely right about not comparing yourself to the thousands of Pinterest moms who spend weeks working on their children’s parties, just as I don’t compare myself to parents who spend thousands of dollars on their children’s birthdays. But if there is one thing i advocate, it’s honest parenting. Understand yourself as a parent, and be true to it. Do what you can for your children with joy in your heart. Similarly, don’t withhold from your children for the sake of abstract disciplinary measures. Your child and children to come deserve every ounce of love from you, including the ones that you think you need to withhold.
I wish you all the best in your family life.
Read more of Stella’s parenting articles on www.virgoparenting.tumblr.com.