Something that helped me when my child got especially whiny was to anticipate her needs.
As a caregiver, I am responsible for my children’s needs. I have been documenting the age-related times when children become difficult. See my “Child Development” tab above. I find there are certain ages when children become especially needy–and it can be more than difficult to deal with. It’s difficult because it’s difficult, but also in part because the neediness comes on suddenly. You’re doing mostly fine and then you’re dealing with a child who might be especially whiny or aggressive and for weeks on end. I have said before that it’s easy to respond to the first extreme meltdown with love but by the fifth or sixth one in one day, it can be maddening.
In anticipating the need, instead of being in a constant reactive position, you make a few measures to possibly thwart the big meltdown altogether. I don’t want to get anyone’s hopes up that it will thwart all of them. I’m also not saying that their meltdowns are “bad.” I’m just saying that if you anticipate the need ahead of time, it can be win-win for everyone. You fall into what you are intended to do anyway, which is provide fully for your child’s needs, including the developmental needs.
This girl can be zen but really, really needed me at developmentally critical times
If a child is really whiny or bossy, they might be deathly worried you won’t provide. At developmentally sensitive times, they may get extremely upset over the smallest things. I totally get that as a parent it’s hard to provide for every single need of your child. This is what this idea and others are meant to help with.
For us, to anticipate the need, it meant providing lunch at the same time every day. This was one way to anticipate her need for hunger before she got hungry. I was having difficulty doing this, because we had a very disruptive and also needy toddler in our house. It felt like I was in an endless cook, clean, repeat mode. But when I committed to regular lunch, it helped to calm everyone down.
Another point of difficulty for us was getting out the door. My daughter was very insistent on doing everything a very particular way, with me doing exactly what she said, such as putting her clothes on for her in a specific way (like we take turns) or demand I play with her about which shoe goes on which foot. I had a lot of difficulty dealing with this. However, I did change my attitude and it helped. I anticipated that when I ask her to transition away from something fun and towards something I am asking her to do, she needs my comforting presence first. I need to ask her about what she is watching before I ask her to turn it off or anticipate that, for a 3 year old, helping them go potty or get dressed, in their eyes, is a playful time with mommy and I need to provide that at least somewhat. It does make things go more smoothly.
Another way to anticipate their needs is with this work itself. I can tell you that this sort of whining (or aggressiveness) got to be a real issue around 3 years, 5 months and again at 3 years, 10 months. These are often difficult ages to deal with. If you anticipate this, you might deal with it better. If you are reading this and you don’t have children yet, I want you to imagine a whiny child and all the fun things you might do with them to help calm them down. Start anticipating the need before they are even born! A child at 3 years, 10 months, for instance, can understand highly complex rules and use them to their advantage. You might play more advanced board games with them as a way to connect, help grow their brain, and strengthen your relationship.
I understand that sometimes even after providing this comforting presence, you still need a child to do something. For whatever reason, it’s not working or you don’t have time or you have too much on your plate. Whatever the reason, I sometimes use more firm methods. One is Counting to 3 and Other Yardsticks. In this article, I talk about using the idea of counting to 3 in a non-punitive way and in a way to be less coercive than this is often used in how you are asking them to do something but still be effective.
See my book Misbehavior is Growth: An Observant Parent’s Guide to the Toddler Years for more on age-related difficulty, how to handle the difficult behavior, anticipate the need and use the new development to grow your child’s new skills.