Lesson 81: Whine Causes Wine

A little before my son’s second birthday, it became clear to me what people were talking about when they referred to the “Terrible 2’s.” He began to really assert his independence at that age, which I know is normal–but that doesn’t always make it less frustrating.

I try to allow him to do things for himself that he’s capable of doing, to allow him to explore when and where it is safe to do so, and to give him a choice as often as I can. Even so, he often gets very frustrated when I cannot allow him to do something he wants to do, or have something he wants to have, for whatever reason that may be.

If he throws a tantrum, he’s on his own. I simply walk away. If it continues to the point of ohmygodifhedoesn’tshutupi’mgoingtolosemyeffingmind, then I send him to timeout. A 2-minute timeout usually ends the tantrum pretty quickly.

But sometimes he’s not tantruming, he’s just whining. It’s worse than fingernails on a chalkboard. Hearing the constant whining is a trigger for stress and anxiety in me–it’s too much stimuli, it’s like emotional overload. I don’t like a lot of noise, especially a consistent and annoying noise. If you ever hear my child whining and see me sitting there looking calm, maybe even with a smile on my face–look closer. You’ll see the my fists are probably clenched and my smile is very tight. The look of complete calm is fake as hell–although I suppose there is a chance that I may be in my zen place, where I have managed to completely block him out. It happens sometimes.

But it’s more likely that my brain is screaming, Shut up! Shut up! Shut up! Oh my God, just shut up!!!

There have been many times when I have had to get up, walk away, and let my husband handle the situation. However, while it’s certainly okay to walk away and take a breather if you feel like you might become the tantruming toddler yourself, it’s also very important to be able to gather yourself and handle the situation in a productive way.

One day when I was feeling particularly brave, just a few weeks after his 2nd birthday, I tried something to combat the constant whining–and I’ll be damned if it didn’t work!

When J started whining, I put my hands on his face and gently directed him so that he was looking into my eyes. I said to him, “J, I know you’re mad/upset/sad right now, but we need to calm down. I’m going to count to 10 and when I finish, I want you to be calm, okay?”

(Like magic, yes?!)

Then I counted to 10 really slowly (I paused for about a second between each number). The entire time I was counting, I maintained eye contact with him. By the time I reached 4 or 5, he was calm, but I kept counting anyway.

Sometimes he starts whining again as soon as I finish counting. If he does, I repeat the action. I’ve been doing this for the last few months and it really does work many times (not always, but a lot!).

It serves 5 purposes that I can think of:

  1. It lets him know that I recognize and acknowledge his feelings. Yes, I know that sounds all modern-day parenting bullshitty, but there’s something to be said for it. Recognizing his feelings doesn’t mean I have to tolerate his actions.
  2. It helps him begin to understand and recognize his own feelings.
  3. It keeps him focused on something calm (mommy’s calm voice and gentle hands on his face).
  4. It allows me to calm down if I’m losing patience with him.
  5. Hopefully, it teaches him ways to self-sooth when he’s frustrated.

Another thing I say to him that tends to work is, J, use your words, not your whines or Mommy doesn’t speak whine. When it’s reasonable, I try to give him what he asks for when he’s using a normal tone of voice, rather than whining. If he’s whining, he’s not getting it. He’s learned pretty quickly that he’s a lot more likely to get what he wants through calmly asking, than through whining or crying about it.

Other times, I pour myself a glass of cabernet, tell my husband good luck, and lock myself in the bathroom. That works too.

What methods do you use to combat toddler meltdowns? What do you do when your toddler throws a tantrum in public?

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