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Monday, August 9, 2010

Is whining really 'normal' for a 5 year old?

I was visiting a local farmer's market and took in the following scene...

A mother was shopping for some dresses for her two girls (both approximately 5 years
old) and their grandmother was in attendance as well. One of the girls really liked a particular
dress due to its color.  Her mother ignored her interest because it was clearly a large dress labelled
8 on the tag (for an eight year old).  The mother moved to another rack of dresses, while the daughter insisted on getting the mother's attention.  First she told her mother. "Mommy, I want this dress."
The mother ignored her, while the grandmother tried to point out other dresses (without explaining that the dress she wanted wouldn't fit her).  The child increased the drama by whining, "But I want this dress!" and making noises that showed her distress.  After about three minutes of, "Ahhhh, ohhhh..." from the child, the mother came around and frustrated by the whining told her to, "Stop it!" and proceeded to bring the child over to the dresses that would fit her.  Again, none of the adults explained to the child that the dress she wanted was too large.

I suppose that, to an adult, it was obvious that it was too large or that it was trivial to take the minute or two to explain that the dress wouldn't fit.  But, in my mind, neither of these are acceptable.  The child wasn't respected at all.  In fact, the adults in the situation seemed to rather ignore an opportunity to talk with the child and preferred to distract, much like one might with a younger child, or have a confrontation.

In less time than it took to have a dramatic conclusion (and wasted emotions), the adults could have said, "That's a beautiful dress.  What do you like about it?"  Then they could have taken it off of the rack and showed her that it wouldn't fit (and empathizing with the child's disappointment, somewhat).  Then stating, "Let's see if we can find another dress that has ______, but in your size."  That dialogue could have happened prior to the whining - if the adults were observant and sensitive to the presence of another human being (though smaller in stature).

What to do if the adult was too late and the child immediately began to whine?  Address the behavior separate from the child and ask, "Instead of whining, what words can you use to get my attention that are kind?"  By the way, when you ask this question (and many other ones), ask it from the child's eye level in a comforting way (as opposed from on high and with a voice of condescension).

To answer the question in the title.  I think whining is normal when being ignored or not having developed an alternative that works.  It is our task, as adults (and sometimes we whine as well), to recognize that whining isn't who the child is and definitely isn't acceptable as a regular form of communication.  Will even the best of children whine from time to time, of course, but the less we consider it as normal (and if we positively promote more successful alternatives for everyone involved) the less it will happen.  One more thing - if your child is tired (missed a nap, didn't sleep well the night before), just like any adult who hasn't slept well, be prepared for 'odd' behavior such as whining and crying at a moment's notice.

"The instruction of these children is even as the work of a loving gardener who tendeth his young plants in the flowering fields of the All-Glorious." - Abdu'l-Baha

Feel free to share your stories...

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