Updated: Apr 26, 2021
Rewind to about 5 years ago, I was a first time mom to a 2 year old, and started to understand what people meant when they talked about the terrible twos. I actually didn't think the two's were so terrible, but the big emotions, easily frustrated kiddo, and attempts to cry and whine and throw a fit as a way to convince me to do something got my attention. I was like no way, I am not getting sucked into giving my 2 year old what he wants when he cries and screams. I decided then and there that I was going to nip this before it nipped me.
Good news is, Roberto is now 7 and still uses the strategies we used 5 years ago when he wants something. Sometimes even backfires on me because I have a hard time saying no when he is so sweet and asks so kindly.
As for my second child, I am not so persistent. I sometimes feel like I only have so much energy to be patient, so if I've already spent it on something else, I am much more likely to give in. But I am working on playing catch up. Reminding myself to be patient enough to wait the crying/tantrums/whining out and not give her what she wants just to move things along. Last month she missed the school bus because I stuck to my guns, and I have to say, it was worthwhile because she has been much more calm when needing help since then.
Want to know what I do? Check it out.
Step 1 - Notice the need for help
Your kiddo wants help. He or she has learned that whining, crying, throwing a fit sometimes gets you to help. So why not give it a try again. She whines. You ignore. She cries. You try to encourage her but don't help. She throws a fit. Fine, you don't have time to wait it out. You just help her do what she needs.
If this is how things go in your house, you're not alone. But, obviously what you are doing isn't working. So many of us parents have conditioned ourselves to ignore the whining, crying, tantrums. It sometimes is a good strategy that is necessary to get tantrums to stop. However, ignoring isn't always going to solve our problems. Ignoring teaches that crying/whining/tantrums don't get your kiddo the help he wants. But it doesn't teach him what to do TO get the help he wants. We've got to take it to the next level.
Okay, so what to do? Your kiddo wants help. She whines. This is where your first step comes in! YOU notice she needs helps. Training your brain to notice can take practice. Stick with it!
Step 2 - Ask if help is needed
You notice that your child is getting frustrated and is using his go-to strategy to request help. Whining.
Instead of ignoring the whining, point out to your child that she may need help. "Do you need help getting your socks on?"
Step 3 - Ask for a calm request for help
If your child indicates that yes, she does need help. Pause. Don't give help yet. Let's first ask your child to actually ask for help. Whining/crying/throwing a tantrum has, in the past, been a way your kiddo has successfully asked for help. Right? She whines, she gets help. In her mind, it is a way to ask for help. Instead of allowing the whining to be a way to ask for help, we will instead ask for a calm request for help.
In a calm way, remind your child that there is a calm way to ask for help. I simply say, "How do you ask for help?" or "I am happy to help when you ask me calmly." She may not know how to do this the first time you ask her, so quickly move on to step 4 the first few times. However, once you teach this, be sure to pause to give her the chance to ask for help calmly.
Step 4 - Demonstrate a calm request for help
Okay here is where we take things to the next level. You will not only teach your child that whining is NOT an effective way to ask for help, but you will teach what is an effective way to ask for help. Recite the script you want your child to use when asking for help. Here is what I like to say...
"Hey mommy, can you please help me put my socks on?"
When I offer the script, I say it in a very exaggerated, kind, and calm way. I think this helps make it very clear how different my suggestion is compared to the whining/crying/tantrums that my child is attempting. Don't forget to throw a smile in there.
Step 5 - Be patient, offer calming help, ignore persistent whining
This is where things can derail. Your child may continue to whine or cry before attempting to ask for help calmly. Depending on how much time or patience you have, you may want to just jump in and get the job done. However, I'd encourage you to stick with it and wait for a calm request for help. This is where you will make a difference.
If your child continues to whine, and you abandon your attempt at getting a calm request, nothing will change. Your child will again have learned that whining is an effective way to ask and receive help and will not work on keeping calm.
Instead, use this time to try to stay calm and patient yourself. Then offer some help calming down. Maybe a hug, deep breaths together, a lovey, a little tickle. But if nothing is helping calm your kiddo down, this is where ignoring can come back in. If the whining persists and your attempts to help calm your child down didn't work, let your child know you are going to continue with what you are doing, but are happy to help when she asks for help calmly. And then you move on and ignore the whining.
Step 6 - Wait for a calm request for help
Your child may begin to calm down, and may try to ask for help calmly. If there is still whining, crying, tantrums involved, hold out for a truly calm request for help. Acknowledge the attempt at asking calmly. "Great job. You are really working hard at asking calmly." Wipe tears, give a hug, take a deep breath to try to help your kiddo get the rest of the way there. You may repeat the script. "Hey mommy, can you please help me put my socks on?" You can make it a little silly to get a smile out of your kiddo as she continues to attempt asking calmly. "Almost there!" Then repeat script in an exaggerated way. " So close!" Repeat script again in an exaggerated way. Continue until you get a truly calm request for help.
Step 7 - Consistency
Whew, that was a lot of of effort! If you are CONSISTANT, meaning you do this every time your child needs help and tries to ask my whining/crying/throwing a fit, your kiddo will being to not only learn that the old way of asking never works, but will get lots of practice with the new way of asking. It will get easier! It will get faster! Eventually ignoring the first request for help with a whine will be the only reminder she needs to ask in a calm and kind way. It is worth the effort.
Katie Ramirez, RN, BSN, CLC
Born Happy, Owner and Coach
Katie Ramirez is a Registered Nurse, Certified Lactation Counselor, and Coach for parents of babies, toddlers, and preschoolers. She has spent more than a decade serving patients at major university hospitals such as Vanderbilt University and Penn State University Medical Centers. Katie now spends her time supporting and empowering parents of babies, toddlers, and preschoolers as founder and coach for Born Happy.
Katie is the proud mother of two beautiful children, Roberto (age 7), and Veronica (age 5). She has a passion for health, wellness, and happy children, and believes that, with the necessary knowledge and support, all parents can live happy.
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