Updated: Sep 26, 2019
Are you reading this title and wondering, "what do pterodactyls have to do with children?" You are not alone! But I think that you may be able to figure out the connection I am talking about. Take the time now and make a dinosaur squeal. If you have no idea, click here to hear the noise I am referring to. Is that the same sound you hear coming from your children from time to time? Or all the time?
Maybe you have whiners in your house. Your precious little ones turn into some crazed prehistoric monster and can only communicate in this high pitch voice that completely gets under your skin. And as hard as you try, when you do not give into the demands, the whining acts like a warning sign before the eye of the storm, the full blown tantrum hits. Help! What can you do?
This is where your self control comes into play - do not show any negative response. Instead of responding, "I hate it when you use that voice! It is so annoying!!" Calmly say, “I cannot understand what you’re saying when you use that whiny voice”. If you can't stand whining, your child will do it even more, simply because it gets a reaction. According to Jane Nelsen, Ed.D., (coauthor of Positive Discipline for Preschoolers), even scolding your child can reinforce the behavior. "Kids just want a response. When they don't know how to get a positive response, they'll go for a negative one." When they are whining, encourage them to find a better voice to ask for what they want and to come and find you when they are ready to use that new voice. Notice I did not say, "use a nice voice". Children are literal and the word "nice" is too vague. When we use better descriptive words it helps our children know what we expect and gives them a clear picture of what to shoot for.
Sit down with your child (not when they are in the midst of a whining session) and have a conversation about what using a non whining voice sounds like. Here are three activities to connect their brains to the type of voice their using.
1. Talk about the different types of voices we use. What does our voice sound like when we are sitting in a movie theater? What about when we are trying to speak and a loud train is passing by? What about when a baby is sleeping? Which kind of voice would be best when you need to ask for some water?
2. You could use puppets or toys to illustrate the difference. One toy asks things in a really whiny voice while the other asks for the same thing in a more gentle way. “I want that toy NOW, I don’t like my milk in the blue cup, the socks don’t feel right on my feet” (The more animated, the more likely the message will stick). The second toy asks in a much better way, “Could I have a turn with that toy? Can I have the green cup instead? My feet feel uncomfortable in my socks.”
3. Another thing you could do would be to ask them to come up with a warning sign that you will use to remind them on the voice that they should use when requesting something. For example, you could grab your ear when they are whining to indicate that you do not understand the language of the dinosaurs.
The human body is amazing. But what is incredible, is that the frontal cortex of a child's brain does not even START developing until they are about 4, and only reaches maturation at 25 years old (you may argue it seems to take even longer in others). So what? Well, the frontal cortex of the brain is the part responsible for regulating emotions. If you have a pterodactyl living in your house who is younger than 4, the reason they are whining is because their brains are not yet mature enough. Whining and having temper tantrums is a normal part of a toddler's development. It is the way they know *at this point* how to express what they want. Now is the time, as they are developing their language skills to teach them the appropriate way to make requests.
We also want to really work on catching our children doing good when they use a gentle or polite voice to ask for something. We are quick to catch and scold the whiny voices, but don’t often praise when things are done in a respectful way. “Wow! Thank you for using such a polite voice to ask. That really helped me to know what you needed right away.” Don’t be discouraged if the whining does not disappear overnight. Just like in our lives as adults, habits take time to break. Stay committed and I am sure you will start to see a difference week to week on your child’s response.
If you are interested in learning more tools to handle temper tantrums in your home, come to my upcoming workshop. Click here for more information.