When Children Whine: Be Like a Firefighter on a Mission to Heal Their Emotions

I was really struggling with my 3 year old daughter’s whining. I made it through her toddler years; I did. She became very clumsy and out of control  at times. That took a lot of emotional fortitude to get through, but I got through it. At 3 years, 5 months, Preschool Milestone 8, her whining started to get really intense.

I want to impress upon you that I am very much for validating a child’s emotions and letting them express emotion, including anger. But there was a certain level of whining that just crawled right up into my skull and rattled me big time. It did not happen with her brother (though he became aggressive in his 4s), only my daughter.

The first bout at 3 years, 5 months only lasted about 2 weeks. My husband dealt with most of it for me. When she got to be 3 years, 9 months and older, especially by 3 years, 10 months, it got to be terrible. The frequency and intensity got to me big time. I found myself not being the parent I wanted to be such as yelling, “Stop. WHINING.”

I want to further impress upon you how hard it can be when dealing with more than one child. Much of the advice given about this is “Give the child your undivided attention,” or “Get on their level” or “Validate their emotion.” You see, I try to do all of that. I want to do all of that. If I had just one child and just a few chores on my plate, I’d do all of that. It would be magic. Someone could take a picture of me on my knee with my arm around my sobbing child and use it in the next parenting class that they teach.

But I had trouble doing this or rather, trouble keeping up, given the very, very frequent and intense number of times she whined. A typical scenario is that my daughter, my middle child, would get into a fight with her older brother, typically because she was upset that she “lost” at something, and I’d be holding a bin of laundry or my toddler (my third) while also trying to remember what I was even in the room for. Both my brain and my arms, at seeming all times, were full. It was also giving me terrible “de ja vu” when listening to my daughter whine, because it reminded me of me as a youth. There was a lot to deal with.

What helped me is a friend who said that the child, from her experience, really wants someone to come to them and say “Oh you poor thing. Here, here, mommy is here.” This helped me because instead of seeing it as I was just trying to validate my child’s emotions, it was more I was on a rescue mission to help them. Instead of just applying some gauze on a cut, I was like a fire fighter on a fire engine with a tall ladder and flashing lights going down the street at blazing speed to help heal her emotions. When I did turn my attention to her, I had stronger, better words. I would say, “Oh you sweet girl! You are so upset! Mommy is here. Let’s all help Emily right now. Big hugs!”

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The very first time I tried it, it worked beautifully. She had gone potty and let out her typical whine, “I’m alllll done!” I came to her, “Oh baby girl! You need help!” She argued with me that she’s not a “baby” so I switched it to “sweet girl.” Riding on this train, I thought I’d try this upbeat, heroic approach to get her to practice wiping. I said, “Let’s practice wiping! I’ll be your cheerleader! Emily! Emily!” and I started clapping. Her toddler brother also started bouncing and clapping too. It was a happy, joyous moment AND it worked.

Now instead of letting myself get annoyed by the whining, I see it as a cue that she needs me to fill her up with courage and support by being her fire fighter and cheerleader. I do notice a decrease in her whining. And I remember when she was young, she loved to pretend she was a damsel in distress and have people come help her. She fundamentally needs this and that’s OK.

I also decided I probably need to do some work to work through my past, so I picked up a book on it, after reading through the free sample of several and picking the best one. I also intend to recruit my husband’s help more. He does excellent with her but I may ask him to help her use better words and tone of voice to express herself.

Please share this post with someone who might benefit! This will be put on some of the latter Preschool Milestones on my work in the “Surviving” section, as I think that’s when it will be most needed.

See my book Misbehavior is Growth: An Observant Parent’s Guide to the Toddler Years

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