Tired of Whining? Give kids the language you want them to use

Model what you want to hear

For me, modeling is the essence of teaching. Watch me as I try out a new introduction for my writing. I want to hook the reader so I’m going to start with action. I then write my introduction in front of my students, saying it aloud as I write it and modeling exactly what it is I want them to do. We then do it together, and finally they go off on their own. Simply put, “I do, we do, you do.”

Whether we are teaching our kids academic, social, emotional, or behavioral skills, we need to first model what we expect. It may be easier to simply say Stop whining!, but in order to more effectively teach a new skill, we want to model what we would like our kids to say instead. When Keener starts to whine, my go to phrase is: Let’s try that again. Listen how I say this, ‘Mom, I’m hungry. May I have a snack please?’ Now you try. I will use my most upbeat, non whiny voice to model how I want his voice to sound, as well as some sample language to show him what I expect.

I will even do this for Grace who, at 15 months, only has emerging language skills. If she is making that terrible one year old uhhhhhhh sound while pointing at crackers, instead of just handing her the crackers, I will say, Grace, we say ‘crackers please.’ Once she makes any verbal attempt to say either cracker or please, I will give her the cracker. I don’t want to reinforce her whining by just giving her what she wants. Instead, I must model what I want her to do instead, even if it is developmentally advanced. When Keener was Grace’s age, I found it easier to teach him some basic sign language for the words more, all done, and please. Grace has found her voice earlier so I took a different route — a good reminder to myself that even though they are siblings, they are far from the same kid! We must find what works for each individual child.

Provide the words for your kids

Keener recently went through a phase where he would respond with, I want to go downstairs NOW!!!! when he asked to go downstairs and the answer was no. He would repeat it over and over, building up the NOW part each time. Thankfully, I put my teacher hat on and nipped it in the bud pretty quickly. The next time he responded that way, I said the following: Listen how I say it, ‘Mama, can we go downstairs please?’ Now you try. Despite him calmly repeating my language and tone, the answer was still no which he thought was a complete injustice. But this led me to validate his feelings, and we made a plan to go downstairs later. It also gave me the opportunity to explain that using a loud, angry voice will never get him what he wants. For moments like this when he is flipping his lid for not getting what he wants, I am also not afraid to say, If your angry voice continues, I’m going to walk away. Please let me know when you are ready to use your quiet voice as I would love to spend time with you.

For those who have read my post about naming what they can do, this may sound similar. It’s a variation on a theme, and the two strategies can work together really well.  By naming what Keener can do and modeling what that might look or sound like, I have found that he is quicker and more amenable to comply and behave.

As a final note, it is important to be mindful that some new skills need to be modeled numerous times, or possibly in a variety of settings. If you would like more information on this, please leave me a comment!

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