Several years ago, my family had a tradition of occasionally deciding we were on vacation for a week. That meant we took a break from our regular routine. We did it a few times a year to focus on getting all of the yard and garden work done. One day that we spent doing lots of yard work is particularly memorable, not because of what we accomplished in the garden, but because of what happened with my children.
After we had worked for many hours, the three younger children went off to play. After a while, I heard my six-year-old daughter whining to her brother and sister that she wanted to play the game they were playing. They had told her “no.” Her brother and sister said, "Londyn, you’re whining. We can't talk to you when you act like that."
The Whining Rule
I had to smile because what they were telling her was the same rule I have about whining. It was so fun to see that they understood proper communication. I wanted to see if their kind and unemotional approach would inspire my daughter to calm down. Soon, she was standing on the trampoline whining to me that they wouldn't play with her. I said, "You’re speaking in a whiny voice. You should disagree appropriately with your brother and sister. I’m sure they will listen if you do."
If she had been a little bit older and not having such an emotional day, that would have probably been all she needed; but not that day. Instead, she turned around and began whining louder to her brother and sister. After a few minutes she started crying very loudly saying, "I'll feel a lot happier if you play with me." She said this over and over again.
An Instruction for Londyn
I decided that I should probably check to see if she was "out of instructional control.” I said, "Londyn, I need you to follow an instruction. I need you to come in the house and sit in time out until you're ready to talk calmly." She looked at me and said, "Okay" and walked in the house to sit down. She was not "out of instructional control.”
After about eight minutes, I came to talk to my sweet little daughter. I said, "Londyn, out in the yard you didn't get what you wanted, so you chose to whine and cry. What you should have done was disagreed appropriately with your brother and sister. Do you remember how to disagree appropriately?"
She said that she did. We practiced different things she could have said in her disagreement. I was going to bring up what options she has if the person she is talking to still says “no” when she said, "If they don't want to play with me I could just say ‘Ok’, or I could disagree, or I could just find something else to do." Of course I let her know that she’s really good at problem-solving and that I had faith she wouldn't have a problem with crying and whining when she doesn't get her way again.
Crying = Not Fun
Then as she was walking out the door she said, "Mom, crying isn't fun. It's not a good idea to make myself sad because then I can't have fun."
I replied, "That’s so true Londyn. I’m glad you know that. I want you to have fun. You’re so smart to think of that." She went back out to play, disagreed with her sister, and then her sister and brother said she could play with them. Life was good again.
Sometimes they figure out by themselves what lesson they need to know. Those are great moments! Those are the moments that let me know I’m teaching them how to think about their own behaviors. Those are the moments of victory for me.