Our four year old little daughter Henrietta has developed a very irritating, whiny way of talking to us. It's driving us nuts--we keep telling her to stop, and we try to ignore her or tell her to ask us in a pleasant voice, but she doesn't stop. How do you tell your beloved child that her voice sounds like fingernails on a chalkboard?
Henrietta's whining may be irritating to you, but there must be something in it that works for her because she continues to whine.. Is it possible that by whining Henrietta is getting more of a response to the whine than she would get if she used a nicer tone of voice? Sometimes parents wind up giving lots of attention by correcting, complaining, or scolding whenever a child whines. As we all know, attention getting behavior-even if it's negative attention-- is very popular with young children
Here are some ideas to try with Henrietta that might reduce her whining--I won't promise a total cure!
First, make sure that Henrietta knows exactly what kind of tone of voice you find irritating. Just because we know what a whine is, we can't assume a child does. Choose a time when you are together as a family and everyone is getting along. Most of the time we try to explain to a child what they are doing wrong while they are doing it. But at the time they're getting in trouble for doing whatever they are doing, they're not in the best mood to listen!
Ask Henrietta if she knows what a "nice" voice sounds like. Whether she says "yes" or "no", tell her: "This is what a nice voice sounds like: (nicely) "May I have a glass of milk, Mommy?" Answer yourself: "Of course you may." If you exaggerate this a bit, you'll get lots of attention! Then say to Henrietta, "That's a nice voice. Do you know what a whining voice sounds like?" Whatever she says, demonstrate the same question using your most exaggerated whine. This will probably make her giggle, so wait until she stops before answering: "Please use your nice voice, not your whiny voice." Then switch voices again to the "nice" voice request and reply with the "nice" response.
Another variation on this approach is to use dolls, stuffed animals or puppets to tell a story about a child and her “whining problem”. You can be imaginative and funny while telling Henrietta a tale of how the heroine of the story kicked her “whining problem” out of her house or told her “whining problem” that she didn’t want to be friends with it any more. The more fun you have telling the story, the easier it will be for Henrietta to listen.
After you have shown your daughter the difference between "nice" and "whiny", tell her that you are making a new rule in your family. When she talks to you in a nice voice, you will answer her. If she talks to you in a whiny voice, you simply will say, "Please use your nice voice."
Henrietta may object or she may act as if she hasn't heard you at all. Whatever you do, don't get caught up in a discussion about why she cannot whine, or why whining isn't polite, or what happens to children who whine, or all of the things that we parents say to persuade children to do it our way. The only explanation you need to give, if asked, is that you don't like the sound of whining.
Then, the next time Henrietta talks to you in a whine, say calmly, "Please use your nice voice." If she switches her tone, continue the conversation. If she continues to whine, repeat your statement in the same calm, boring voice. It is very important that you stay calm and boring. If Henrietta gets an interesting or varied response from you she'll probably keep whining. But if you keep repeating your response she'll either change to a nice voice or leave you alone while she looks for something else to do. (Some children, of course, will get furious with you and storm off. As unpleasant as this can be, it usually means that a child has realized that she isn't going to be able to get the same attention for whining any more.)
If you can stay calm, consistent and boring in your responses to Henrietta's whining, the whining time should decrease. As she improves, remember to compliment her. You can tell her at bedtime. "You used a nice voice all afternoon. I really like that."
Please don't expect your child to stop whining completely--all children and most adults whine on occasion. In fact, if you find that despite all of your efforts Henrietta continues to whine as much as ever, you might need to get a tape recording of your own voices. Children sometimes whine around their parents because that's how they hear their parents talking to each other!