Whining typically peaks between 2-4 years of age, and then decreases with age. However, some children seem to have figured out the most irritating decibel to an adult, the appropriate length of time to employ it and the perfect number of repetitions – all to get what they want. Right?
Surprise . . . it’s not always about what they want, but whining can often indicate there is something they need. It might not actually be about the iPad or the treat they are asking for. There could be more going on under the surface, and a little self-evaluation is the place to start. “What does my child need and how am I meeting those needs?” Let’s look at your child’s need of rest, nutrition, connection, physical activity and health.
Need 1: Rest
Sleep plays a critical role in your child’s cognitive, emotional and physical development. Is your child getting adequate rest? Check out this blog post for more information on meeting your child’s sleep needs. An unrested child is more likely to revert whining, as they are at a point where they are physically and mentally unable to regulate themselves.
Need 2: Nutrition
Although the effect of diet on children’s moods and emotional wellbeing has not been extensively researched, there are a few studies that indicate that a healthy diet contributes to mental wellbeing. These studies indicate that children with higher diet scores have better mental health than peers with lower diet scores. Adolescents with deficiencies in deficiency in omega-3 fats, zinc and some of the B-vitamins show a higher risk level for mood disorders. Pediatric dietician, Dr. Hyland, also states that sugar can contribute to mood swings, “because their blood sugar is like a roller coaster”.
We get it, some days it’s all you can do to get something edible into your child’s stomach, after all, who has the energy to battle over food at the end of a long work and school day? But, everyone can start small. Reduce sugar. Switch to whole grains. Add some “good mood foods” to your child’s diet: berries, nuts, bananas, spinach, kale, avocados, pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, quinoa, salmon and Greek yogurt are just a few of the mood boosting foods! As always, consult your child’s pediatrician about his or her diet as well as the use of supplements and vitamins.
Need 3: Connection
If we’re honest, most of us spend very little focused time with our children. We multitask, and between chauffeuring to after-school activities, getting everyone fed, teeth brushed and snuggled in bed, we assume that we are connecting with our children.
What if our child is looking for connection with us? A time of bonding over a book or a game? Some good-natured rough and tumble play with Dad? Slow family dinners around the table? Unrushed nature walks?
Whining can indicate that our child needs a little more connection with us. Let’s close our work laptops, put away our phones, pause our to-do lists, skip one of our afterschool activities and spend some time doing something they love.
Need 4: Physical activity
While children age six and up are encouraged by physicians to get at least one hour of physical activity a day, younger children are encouraged to be physically active throughout the day. Movement is essential to the development of this age group! Exercise increases endorphins (mood lifters!), limits the effects of stress on the brain, builds concentration, and aids in establishing better sleep. The bottom line? Get active with your child!
In addition, consider weaning your child off of excessive screen time, which can contribute to moodiness. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no screen usage for children under age 2, and for children ages 2-5, no more than one hour of screen time per day.
Need 5: Health
Unusual meltdowns and whining can be indicative of a child who has caught a bug. Keep a close watch on your child to see if there are any symptoms of possible illness.
Once we’ve ensured that our child’s basic needs are met, and they are still whining, what is the best way to respond? Check out our blog next week for tips on handling habitual whining.