Saturday 20 January 2018

We are getting worried about our toddler's whinging and whining

David Coleman

David Coleman

Do you have any advice to stop my one-and-a-half-year-old whinging and whining? I know it is natural to do some whining for his age. He is only learning to talk and wants to be a big grown-up boy and do lots for himself so is finding things frustrating at the moment. However, it is not just now and again that he does it.

A lot of days in the week it feels like he is doing it nearly all day long. He can switch between being a very happy smiley little boy to whining and then back in the blink of an eye. This has been going on for at least six months.

He has a little sister also, who does none of this, but who misses out on things because he is getting our attention or he is drowning out everyone. We are getting quite worried that there is something wrong with him, either physically or mentally.

Eighteen-month-olds are notoriously busy, active and demanding children to have around. Young toddlers are usually constantly on the go and want to be in the middle of everything, requiring almost constant vigilance from parents.

I can imagine that you both are probably worn out, between meeting his needs and the needs of a smaller baby.

However, as you have spotted, a toddler's desire to be in the thick of things is often only matched by their physical inability to do many of those things because they discover that they are too small, or are unable to grip, hold, twist or turn things.

They find they can't reach things, can't climb over or under things or can't carry things. No wonder they get frustrated!

Add to that the fact that they get tired quickly and may not be great at tracking their hunger, and it is easy to see why they get so grumpy at times.

Like all children that age, your son won't be able to regulate his own emotions and so will often be simply reacting to the frustration, tiredness and hunger, leaving you to deal with the fall-out.

Coping with your son's frustrations is a significant demand on your time and patience.

The difficulty for most parents is that the higher the demands that our children place on us the more our own stress and frustration builds.

This can mean that our response to demanding children is to get angry or dismissive. This in turn can lead children to get more demanding, often turning to whinging.

It can really help to remember that so much of their fussy behaviour is, in fact, entirely normal. While it may be annoying for us, it is not necessarily the sign of having some demon child.

This is also a particular stage in children's development, and it does change as they get older and more able.

The more calmly you can respond to your son the less whinging you are likely to get. This may seem like an almost impossible task when you are stressed out with two young children, but even taking a minute to leave the room, breathe deeply and then respond can allow you the headspace to be less frustrated yourself.

I wonder also if some of your son's whining is a way of getting a response from you. I am guessing that his little sister is about six months old and her birth seems to have coincided with the increase in his whinging. It may be that he whinges to get attention.

Empathy is the best way to respond to children who whinge. An empathetic response is one where you acknowledge his frustration and let him know that you can understand that he may feel cross, tired, frustrated, jealous or whatever feeling he may have at any moment.

By guessing out loud about his feelings you are allowing him to begin to become aware of what he is feeling and to learn the language of emotions.

Recognising what we are feeling is the first step to learning to regulate those feelings. Ultimately you want him to be able to tell you how he feels rather than continuously showing you how he feels by whinging or whining.

Practically, as well, it will help to observe and track him over a couple of days to see if you can spot a pattern to his whinginess.

For example, are there times when it happens more? Does is seem associated with particular activities? Could he be overloaded or overwhelmed or might your expectations of him be too high (forgetting he is only 18 months old!)?

So, think about his day and make sure to have plenty of down time and rest time to alternate with busier times when there is lots happening.

If you have spotted a pattern then to try to anticipate his frustrations and see if you can distract or assist him to get him past the point of frustration.

Remember to take advantage of fresh air. Even on a wet day it is worth bundling him and his sister up and getting out. The restorative power of the outdoors is amazing. Just a short walk or a quick slosh through some puddles in the park will lighten everyone's mood.

It is also worth having frequent small snacks and drinks of water available for toddlers. They rarely pay close heed to their energy levels and they can suddenly flag and descend into moaning and whinging.

Do try to be warm in response to his whinges. If you can solve the source of his frustration then do. When you can't immediately help him then be empathetic and let him know that when he is calmer and less whingey you will try to help him more.

Do try to give him some one-to-one time, with lots of hugs and cuddles, when his sister naps or if she is distracted with something else, as he may be genuinely missing some attention from you.

Focusing more on catching him being good, generally, praising his positive behaviour and engaging with him as much as possible when he isn't whinging will also give him a strong message that he gets more (and better) attention when he is calm.

Although his behaviour sounds quite normal to me, if you are still worried then talk to your public health nurse. He should be due a developmental check at about 18 months anyway, but if it hasn't yet happened you can go up to your local HSE health centre and enquire about it.

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