Why do kids (and us) whine? I think it helps to realize that whining is the outward manifestation of internal selfishness and fear. It is a protective measure we use to try to regain control and get back the status quo or what we want. It is never healthy because it sets us up as the victim and not the victor. It focuses on the negative and not the positive. So teaching our children (and ourselves) not to whine is definitely something parents need to be actively pursuing.
What happens if we don't teach them? Who do you work with that likes to whine and complain and not do their fair share? Is this the person you want your child to become? Of course not. Overcoming whining is all about learning self-control and positive self-talk. And like most positive character attributes, it doesn't necessarily come naturally, but through life opportunities and teachable moments. If, when those teachable moments come, whining works, we are teaching poor character. If it does not, we are teaching strong character and self-control. It really is as simple as that. But "the how" can feel hard.
In our home, whining was typically the result of being asked to do something around the house when my children had something else they would rather be doing. Whether that might be cleaning their room, mowing the lawn, taking out the trash, setting the table or emptying the dishwasher. "Why do I have to?" or "But I was going to...." were oft-heard phrases as our kids grew up. They were also great score keepers. "But I did it last time!" Or it would come when they were asked to do something they had never done before. "But I don't know how!" (Hear: I might fail and be humiliated.)
I could go into great detail and stories of what we tried and how it all played out, but let me just cut to the chase and tell you what worked for us:
1. It's all about identity. If we give into whining, we are basically saying to our children, "The world revolves around you and your needs." That is simply not true. We are all here to be a blessing and make the world a better place. So my response when my children would whine was, "You are here on this earth to be a blessing and it is in my mom job description to teach you how and provide opportunities for you to practice." Believe it or not, this really works! Children need to know that you believe in them, have high expectations for them and expect them to make a positive difference to everyone around them! It's not about them being "bad" as much as it is them not realizing they are "good."
2. Consistency. If one gets away with it and another doesn't, that is setting up for resentment between your children. Everyone needs to have age-appropriate consequences for whining.
3. Consequences. Since whining was usually about work I was asking them to do, my response to whining was more work. "What I was asking you to do was actually not very much but you are acting like it would take you hours and hours to do. So now we will arrange for you to have hours and hours of work to do, so the next time I ask you to ______ you will understand just how little of a thing it is." And I would create lots of ways for them to help me that day. I have found this to be much more effective than taking something away. If they continue to whine, the list gets longer. It's very important not to go into whining mode yourself as you work side-by-side but rather either keep quiet or use it as an opportunity to talk about other things or turn on some music.
4. Safety. I can't tell you how many times, while I was explaining something to them they will need to know to complete a job I am asking them to do, my sons would whine, "How am I supposed to know that?" As though my instructions were indicating they were not smart enough. So I learned to preface the instruction with, "I know this is your first time to do this, so let me tell you some things that would be helpful for you to know that most kids your age, don't know. I don't want you to learn the hard way. I want to set you up for success. " Children are always glad to know things and be good at things most kids their age don't. But even with the proactive teaching there is often an "I can't do this!" that follows if it doesn't come easily or naturally the first time. My standard reply to that is. "That's what you used to say about _____ (i.e riding your bike) and now look at you! You'll get this too!"
That is why I wrote the cookbook like I did. It is written to set them up for success, to tell them things most kids (and a lot of adults) don't know and remind you as a parent, what to proactively teach them so they have every chance to succeed and not become frustrated.
5. Affirmation. When they do what you've asked them to do, with our without whining, be sure to thank them and let them know how much it helped you and the family and what an important part of the team they are. How did their contribution make a difference? Let them know! Prove to them with your words that it is more blessed to give than receive. Compliment them around others. "Doesn't the lawn look nice? Drew mowed it this morning." "You should see Dean's room. It looks so good." "The kitchen looks great, don't you think? Grant really did a great job getting everything cleaned up after dinner."
I love having the kids cook because it becomes a life lab assignment where character can be taught. After the newness wears off, they are going to whine when it is their turn to cook. Don't be surprised. Don't let it deter you. It is a great opportunity to teach character. I promise if you stick with it, the whining will end and they will become better people because of it. My children still do not ask me when they get to cook next. But they do not complain when they have to. They are proud they can make a difference. They enjoy our gratitude of their contribution. And they understand the joy that comes from serving others.
Last night we returned from an event and Grant was washing the dishes - unprompted, unasked, willingly, with the music turned up and singing while he worked. I was so proud of him and told him so. His response, "No problem. I was bored anyway." Understated blessing to be sure. Proactive parenting is worth the journey.