I remember once a long time ago–I was quite small–I was in the car with my family. I sat in the backseat with my brother, saying something to my parents who were up front, and they told me to stop whining.
I don’t remember what I was unhappy about right then, but I do remember this: I was baffled. I didn’t know what they meant. I didn’t notice there was anything different about my voice; I thought I was just telling them something.
I remember going quiet after that, replaying my words in my head and trying figure out what ‘whining’ was. You see, I had heard of whining before. I just didn’t know how to define it and how to know if I was doing it.
I never said anything about it. I just kept the question with me over the years and tried to solidify my own answer. What is whining? It seems like such an unusual situation…but as a kid, I never felt confident of the definition of this word!
Then I had kids of my own. Then I knew for sure. I never did have anyone to explain it to me, but when you’re on the receiving end of whining, you know.
The thing is, I still remember that uncertain feleing I had…to be told you’re whining, but not understand what it is you’re doing that’s whining. Is it different than complaining? Venting? Sharing unpleasant feelings? I wanted to make sure my kids didn’t go through the confusion I did. I wanted to define it for them. Clear things up a bit. I wanted to get everyone on the same page so we all know what we’re talking about.
Once, when JJ was about 3 and Elia was 4, we started the Whining Game. It went like this:
Me: Hey you guys, you know how sometimes you might hear me talk about whining? Or that someone is whining?
Me: Do you know what that means? Do you know what whining is?
Elia: Um…it’s kind of like you’re mad?
Me: Yeah…or frustrated, or sad, or angry, or all of them at the same time.
Me: And sometimes when you feel like that, you kind of feel like crying?
Me: And sometimes you cry but sometimes you’re still trying to talk, too. So the words come out kind of half-and-half.
Elia: Yeah, half crying and half talking at the same time.
Me: Yeah like this [over-the-top nasally whiny voice]: MOOOOOOOM, I DONT WANNA DO WHAT YOU WANT ME TO DOOOOOO…I WANNA DO WHAT I WANNA DOOOOO! [giggles] Hey about you do one.
Elia: [smiling] I WANT CAAAAANDYYYYY!
JJ: [giggling] NOOOOOO!
Me: ….BUT I DON’T WAAAANT TOOOO! I JUST WANNA…Oh my gosh I can’t do it anymore. I’m annoying myself.
Them: Ahhhhha hahaha! Mom! [Hysterical laughter.]
Me: You win.
I’ve heard parents talk about their kids’ whiny stages, annoyed that everything that comes out of their mouths is said with a whine. And, remembering my 5-year-old self in the backseat of my parents’ car, my first thought is always, “Maybe they don’t know what it is.”
To help kids through whiny stages, I recommend that all parents and kids get on the same page about what whining is and what it sounds like to others, definitely in a fun way. Play the Whining Game. Be super annoying about it. And funny…aways be funny.
Then, when everyone’s clear, it’s easy to provide an alternative tone when you’re in the moment. When whining happens, you can say something like, “OK, I can hear in your voice that this bothers you. You know the whiney game we played? I can hear that voice in your words right now. So I know you’re upset. Try saying it this way instead: ‘Mom? I’m having a hard time with this. Will you help me?’”
It does take time to move out of a whiny stage. But it’s easier with some understanding. It’s easier to do things differently when you understand the differences.
“Hey guys, I know a fun game you can play while you’re going potty! But you have to be a boy and you have to pee standing up….So, sorry. You guys can’t play.” ~JJ, age 5
I flipped through this book at the counter of our local toy store the other day. It’s a humorous take on the classic “Goodnight Moon,” which my kids and I have read together countless times. And it is funny; an apt exaggeration of how virtuality has replaced so much of what is “real.”
But it makes me a little sad, too. That our world has become so plugged in that there exists a market for this kind of parody. That there exist gadgets for reading and being read to, for listening to music and making music, and for communicating with people without having to see or talk to them.
So many gadgets, so short a childhood.
Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the convenience of technology as much as anyone. Our family certainly has our share of gadgets. But the idea of “Goodnight iPad” does hit close to home for us.
Me: Goodnight iPad.
Not quite, but pretty close. The difference is I’m not smiling when I pry the iPad out of JJ’s hands.
Recently, we’ve been keeping closer tabs on our screen time, both grownups’ and kids’. It has become way too easy to allow some type of screen to keep us entertained on a whim. Between iPhone, iPod, iPad, laptop, and the good-old-fashioned TV, our kids are always only a finger touch away from easy entertainment. When they’re bored, it is only too easy for them to turn on a device instead of playing with toys.
And it’s too easy for me to want to. When days are filled with stress (either theirs or mine) because of school, work, household tasks, or the emotional upheaval of a 5-year-old’s growth spurt, it’s tempting to turn on a device that will allow them to relax, keep them busy, and stop the bickering. Gadgets are always an easy solution to stress.
But when we start to become dependent on them, something needs to change. When I say, “No iPad today,” and they don’t know what else to do with themselves, something needs to change. It means they’ve become to accustomed to a screen as their go-to to-do, and that needs to change.
I used to read the AAP’s recommendations for appropriate amount of screen time for young kids and think, “Oh, thank goodness that isn’t us.” We never used to have issues with keeping screen time to a minimum, but lately the accumulated hours have crept up on us.
So, goodnight iPad. Goodnight TV. Goodnight iPhone-in-restaurants. Goodnight video games of any kind.
Hello conversation. Hello toys and games and books. Hello puzzles and mazes. Hello blocks, Legos. Hello wrestling matches, swords flights, and dress up. Hello sketch books, hello colored pencils. Hello creativity and imagination.
Also hello whining and complaining…at first. In my state of exasperation with our screen situation, I eliminated every trace of them from our day. It may have been a little extreme, but cold turkey seemed necessary. Oh yes, there was withdrawal. The symptoms included angry faces, sad voices, confusion, boredom, chronic whining, and constant shouts from mom to, “Go do something!”
And then eventually…contentment. Cooperation. Ingenuity.
It’s been a few weeks now, since we said “goodnight” to the screens, and the kids haven’t been asking for them. They get up in the morning and go to the pantry for cereal instead of the iPad for games. When they’re bored, they don’t immediately think of watching a show. They go to the bookshelf or the game cabinet. Our arts and crafts supplies are dwindling, the playroom is a happy mess, and JJ always has a toy in his hands.
Will screens eventually creep back into our day? I’m sure. But I’m contented to have come to a point where they don’t seem necessary for engagement. Without the devices, we are engaging more with each other…imagine that! I know that technology affords us the convenience of connecting us to the world, but I see healthier connections made without it. Skip the digital connections please, I’ll take the interpersonal ones any day.
We love the game “Guess My Picture.” It’s very visual, no reading required, and allows for some really creative interpretation. In re-creating photographs with simple geometric shapes, I get to see some fascinating distinctions between each of my kids.
Elia is quite literal; she notices the major shapes and proportions and assembles accordingly.
JJ is more abstract; he accentuates only the most distinguishing shapes of the object in the photo, creating a caricature.
I’m sure there are rules, but the way we play it, there are no winners nor any set end time. We just have fun guessing each other’s pictures until we get tired of it. Which, yesterday, took an hour.
And yes, that is Elia and me on the box. In case you were wondering.