Meet Luna, our dog. She looks overwhelmed this morning, doesn’t she? I think she is thinking about our short night of sleep sandwiched between a fine nighttime whine and an early morning whine. The whining in our house is overtaking me. Imagine me in a pile of virtual sound, covered up to my nose in noise. Underneath layers of scratchy screech and howl, whine and cry, loudness and complaining, my hands reaching for the sky. It’s loud here. Wanna come over and play?
I’m wondering when our dog will enter into the chorus and begin to howl. She’s a remarkably patient and mild mannered 7 year-old lab but you’d think this would inspire a little bark or something. Her calm alarms. She remains quiet and patient despite the racket, waiting on the sideline for the respite of nap time silence. Silence can feel very present and nearly tactile right now. The presence of something as opposed to the absence.
It’s loud here, yes. I woke in the middle of the night last night, my heart thumping after a nightmare about running and noise and trumpets of tantrums. 2:20 this AM I am running around in dream world trying to fight off noise. My experience of this noise is seeping into my every moment. Join me.
Let’s call this chorus of scream and whine my little January quilt of noise. Little squares all sewn up together. At the end, I know this will be something beautiful and warm. Today is one of those days I remain in a state of startled wonderment of those who stay home with their children day in and day in (intentional typo, grammar warriors, as SAHM/D have no out) and who become expert at celebrating and mastering these moments. I am clearly no master. Hello and welcome back to my rookie world.
Whining is by definition different from a tantrum as you know. Quieter but more insipid. In the office I talk about tantrums in addition to whining when helping a family. Both behaviors sit on the spectrum of normal development. I do recognize that reassurance about “normal” behavior is altogether not very helpful at times. This is one fine example of the limitation of a medical practice. This limitation comes down to the reality that whining is not a medical problem per se, rather a problem of circumstance. In this world, the circumstance of living with, loving, and functioning as mom to two boys under age 4. The cure to my problem is complicated.
Here’s what I say in the office to families exasperated by toddler noise, tantrums and the dreaded whine. I fear one voice is not entirely helpful in this complicated reality so I have peppered this list with links of others’ stories and online advice.
Surviving The Whine:
- Keep your schedule consistent. Help your children know what to expect out of their day. Review your plan for the day with your child once it begins.
- Your child may be tired, frustrated or defeated when whining. Examine what else is going on at home to see how you may help lessen the whine
- Explain that whining is not talking. Define what is going on. You may even consider recording your child’s whine so you can play it back to them for clarification and explanation.
- EXPLAIN everything. Understanding what is right and what is wrong, exactly, may really help your child feel more in control. Praise them for doing things right.
- Remember you’re the adult. Attempt to be that person despite the ridiculousness of the challenge at times. Don’t whine back. The husband likes to talk about the first few weeks of F’s life when he would be up rocking him at 3am and would get to point of despair and cry back. Although a good way to vent, I fear my whimpering will only add to the noise.
- Never raise your voice or escalate your emotion to a child’s whine level. Best of luck! When you do escalate, you only model behavior you don’t want or like. Families that yell or raise their voice will often have children who do the same.
- Don’t give in to the tantrums—i.e., don’t let children get what they want after they thrash and scream and flop around on the floor. If you do, you reinforce that flopping and flailing as an effective way to negotiate. If it works, your little one will be tempted to do it again and again.
- Remember your toddler is growing up. Whining may be a way for them to avoid a full on tantrum.
- Diversion for you: Find a way to escape the noise when you can safely slip away. Get yourself a break even if it means 4 minutes outside drinking a diet coke and looking at the rain (or sun if you live somewhere like that).
- Diversion for your child: Distract your child. Rather than involving yourself in the struggle or dilemma, find an alternative activity for your children. Ignore the whine, then re-direct, re-align, re-do the next moments that unfold.
- Get out in the sunshine and spin around under the light when you can. You need release too. Exercise, eat, and sleep when you can. Complain and download to your friends. Call your mom or dad.
- Share the noise. If your infant or toddler is whining and crying (especially in the evening), go out in the night and walk. Sharing the sounds of the fuss and the whine can really help when it is radiating off into the ether rather than bouncing from the left wall of your kitchen back to your ears. Babies and toddlers are loud inside; they are usually not so loud outside.
This is all good and fine in the office, I suppose, but a perfect example where the pediatrician can’t help much, except listen and share stories and advice. I, too, can feel defeated after I feel I don’t offer cures to an exhausted family surrounded by whine. When you’re lying squarely under the whining quilt, trapped in the spaces of noise and auditory clutter, these kinds of lists can feel like hogwash. H-o-g-w-a-s-h. My grandmother used to say this. But when she did, it always was tagged with the hidden “r” and sounded more like “hogwarsh.” Repeat after me, “hogwaRsh.” Historical context: my grandmother was born in Grigggsville, IL in 1911 and raised on a farm in the midst of the depression. I loved my grandmother and experienced her as old and “right” all the time. When I was little I also thought using the “r” in “wash” made you sound more sophisticated. Life is about perspective, yes? Imagine how cool I thought I was at the ski team’s fundraiser chanting, “CAR WARSH, 10 Dollars.”
So, have patience with yourself. In my very patient moments with the whine, I am reminded that these little boys are telling their story. They whine about their own frustration with themselves or frustration with the day or frustration with my fatigue/collective stress as I am stooped over the counter after a long day rubbing my eyes. They are simply expressing their fatigue and confusion, expression and opinion or plain and simple, their discontent. Thinking of their story, I can envelop their whine, become MORE loving in it, not more distant from them. I can remember that the whine is just a way to communicate fatigue, the realities of stress in our home and the fact that I am working too much. And then I reach deep in my patience pocket and remember whining is a temporary part of my life with these little boys. This too, will end and we’ll be on another adventure. In the meantime, I’ll be here, waiting for Luna to let out a little peep or howl for some support and camaraderie.