My son is twelve. He is an uncomfortable child to be around. He whines constantly. He wears me down until I give in to his demands.
My daughter is very bright. She whines and whines until she gets her way. What can I do to teach her that when I say “no” I mean it. She just doesn’t believe me!
If you, the parent, say something twice you are nagging. The same is true about children. If they say it twice, or more likely twenty-seven times, they are committing the kid version of nagging, whining.
Whining is a learned behavior and anything that can be learned can be unlearned and replaced with a more mature and useful behavior.
For about the first four years of life a child needs to be demanding of her parents. As her communication skills develop she learns to speak her needs, versus cry, as a form of alert that she has a need. After age four, a child who does not communicate her needs, at an age appropriate level, is acting immaturely. This should be a concern for the child’s parents.
I have seen teens that still expected their parents to cut their meat and make their bed. These teens exhibit clingy behaviors. It is interesting that most parents with overdependent children do not seem to notice the immature behavior.
Children from age four to eight tend to complain with the “Why can’t? or Why does?” “Why can’t I stay up and watch the show?” “Why can’t Bobby come over?” “Why does Mary get tooooooo ...” This is normal manipulation for their age. It becomes whining when the child refuses to accept your answer and keeps asking the same question.
Kids whine because it works. They tend to get their way. And the more it works, the more they whine. Bluntly, you have taught your child to whine at you. Mr. and Mrs. Johnson came to my office because of a concern with their nine year old daughter, Nan.
Mrs. Johnson explained:
Nan is a brilliant girl, her teachers have always said how smart she is. The problem, very simply is ... whatever I say she argues with and whatever Dick (Mr. Johnson) says she just does. No fuss. She is happy to listen to her dad.
Dr. Phil: Dad, any idea why your daughter listens to you?
Mr. Johnson: Not really, I guess it’s because I mean it when I tell her to do something. I just won’t get into an argument with her. She is too smart. She could sell a sin to the Pope. I just won’t argue with her.
I think Mr. Johnson was correct. Nan had her mother’s number. She knew that if she gently pushed, her mother would come around to see things her way. Mom saw it as whining, Nan saw it as winning. (See Dr. Phil’s Rule of 10:1, 100:1, 1000:1 in Chapter 1.)
Some children learn that if they act charming or naive some adults will like them. For the adult this child’s behavior makes them feel wiser, mature, and needed. Some parents are fearful about their child growing up, thus they reinforce childish behaviors that prove to them that they are still needed.
Some children learn that by whining they can get attention from their parents. The reverse of this is when a child feels overpowered by his parents so he acts useless as a way of punishing (feeling power over) his parents.
The self-centered child sees his parents as tools to control so he can get his own needs met. This is more common in teenagers. The self -centered teen sees anything that a parent wants to do for them as a weakness on the part of the parent. They feel that it is their parent’s fault that they are weak, so exploiting them is only fair. The parent tends to feel overwhelmed with the self centered belief system of their child. (It is usually best to seek professional assistance for you and your child to deal with this type of emotional disorder.)
One of the most important responsibilities of a parent is limit setting. Some parents are so concerned that their children like them that they become extremely inconsistent with their limit setting “to keep the children happy.” I had a mother exclaim, “What do you mean that I am not supposed to be my child’s best friend!” I explained, “You’re supposed to be your children’s mother. Part of being their mother is being their friend, but you do your children a true disservice if your goal is to make your children happy all the time.
This mother was uncomfortable with my belief that she could not be or should not be her children’s friend first and parent second. In friendship it is not necessary to set parental limits on the other’s behavior. In fact, if that is occurring between friends, wouldn’t it be an unhealthy relationship? I do not wish to get caught up into the semantics of the word “friend,” but parenting is much more than friendship. (See Chapter 4: Family Rules, The Art Of Discipline) It is important that a parent feel comfortable with the fact that their children will not always be happy with them.