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Whining Twins

“I have boy-girl twins who are almost three. The girl is going through a whining phase and her brother is beginning to whine too. Help!”

I can sympathize with the parent who wrote today’s question. Nothing is more annoying than a whining child…unless it is two whining children.

Whining is actually a pretty clever way for a preschooler to get attention. The sound is so annoying that every parent wants it to stop. The problem is that whining can be perpetuated by how the parents react to it.

All of us have bad days even preschoolers. Children can become cranky or out of sorts. They can get tired or hungry, they can be coming down with something or other. They whine and Mommy responds solicitously because she wants the child to feel better.

Kids are 1) smart and 2) crave attention. So they add whining to their behavior armamentarium. When whining becomes a “phase” the child has learned it works.
Parents who give in to whining behavior violate a basic rule of discipline that says Do Not Reward Undesirable Behavior. If you say no the first 5 times the child whines for a cookie and then give in because you can’t stand it anymore you not only perpetuate the annoying habit but you have heard the whining noise 6 times. And you have taught your child the best way to get a cookie is to whine.

Dr Heins has said many times that the best way to stop whining in a child is to change response behavior in the parent. First of all Do Not Give In. Say the rule is you will not give the child anything he or she asks for unless it is done in a non-whining tone of voice. Make sure the child understands what whining is and how it sounds. Role-play, first using an exaggerated whining voice and then a lovely pleasant voice. Make a little game out of this and ask the child to do the same.

If the whining habit persists, tell the child that whining hurts your ears. If the child won’t stop whining, the child will have to go the “whining place” (somewhere out of earshot) and stay there until the whining stops. Tell the child that he or she can whine as long as it’s done in the whining place where you don’t have to hear it. Tell the whiners they can come out of the whining place as soon as they stop whining and talk pleasantly. The child controls the length of stay by changing the behavior. (This is different from a time-out place where the child must stay until the timer goes off.)

Prevent whining by keeping the child from getting overly tired or hungry. Keep noise levels low and minimize screen time as children can get cranky from being over-stimulated.

Finally it helps to decrease the child’s need to whine by really listening when the child properly asks for your attention. All parents have to say “In a minute!” or “Not now, Ethan, I’m busy!” These are legitimate phrases to use on occasion, but don’t overdo it with a three year old. To a three year old, a minute is a long time.

Alas, many of us today are glued to screens that divert our attention. This ticks off grownups as well as kids. I haven’t done a controlled study but I bet whining is less common among children whose parents provide intense and readily responsive attention when their child needs it. Maybe this “immunizes” the child so that he or she is better able to resist the whining virus.

Mothers of twins have to find a way to give each child some undivided attention every day. Use a timer to be fair. Try to use the time to focus on what each twin likes to do.