Public Whining

Q: What do I do in public when my 3 year old starts whining? When I’m home, she goes to her room for a bit, which seems to work, but I’m at a loss as to what to do in public.

Also, she’s started adding, “but…” when asked to do something. Example:

I say, “Get out from under the table or you will get hurt.”

Child responds, “But I need to look at something.”

What are your thoughts?

A: There’s nothing more grating than a whiny voice. I think all parents would agree on that score! But the fact of the matter is, most kids do whine. The key is nipping that habit in the bud and moving on.

So for the whining: Ignore her. Yes, I know that’s extreme. Whenever my kids talked to me in a whiny voice that I’ve told them is unacceptable (usually again and again), I simply act as if I hadn’t heard what was said. A reminder of how to talk in public (not in a loud voice, not whining, not interrupting) is always good, especially when accompanied by silly role playing (like you do what she’s NOT supposed to do and she offers corrections, etc.).

The “but” response is just like the “why” response (or the shrug response, etc.): She’s basically trying to avoid doing what you told her to do. I’ll bet that she doesn’t add “but” when you tell her to get on her shoes because you’re going out for ice cream. If you go back over the times when she says, “but,” I think you’ll see a patter emerge of her “butting” in response to your command that she stop what’s she’s doing and do something else.

So for the “butting”: Raise your eyebrows and stay silent. Don’t respond to her argument (because make no mistake, she’s trying to engage you in an argument as to why she shouldn’t have to obey). A steady, silent stare works wonders and she’ll likely comply (even if she grumbles about it or continues to give reasons why she shouldn’t have to do so).

Or you can shrug and repeat the original command. If she still tries to argue with you, send her to her room and put her to bed directly after supper. You can say that the doctor said she must not be getting enough sleep if she can’t obey on the first instance. That should fix things in a short order because no young child likes to go to bed early..

One final thought: stop giving explanations to your commands. “Get out from under the table” is a command. “Get out from under the table or you will get hurt” is an explanation that invites pushback—which your daughter is happily doing. Keep your commands short and sweet, and that should cut down on the “buts” as well.


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