Silver bells and catchy carols may be the official sounds of the holidays, but if you’re a parent, you’re probably all too familiar with the unofficial sound of the season: the not-so-wondrous whine. It rears its ugly head far too often this time of year – in the form of a nerve-jangling “Whyyyyyyeee?” when you announce bedtime or a screeching “But I waaaaaant it!” as you leave the store without that toy.
In HelloJoey’s “Whining and Complaining” kit, we look at exactly what whining is and what it means so you can understand why it happens more often during the holiday season. We also explore the reasons behind whining so you can get out in front of it, sharing ideas and techniques that may even help your family enjoy a little holiday peace (and quiet).
Why is my kid so much whinier during the holidays?
Just like adults, kids do best when they know what to expect – and know what’s expected of them. That’s why they tend to respond well to regular routines, mealtimes, and bedtimes. Unfortunately, the holidays usually toss your regular routines out the window as you skip dinner to snack on the popcorn you’re stringing or ignore bedtime and head out to see that tree lighting ceremony.
Of course, all that holiday stuff is meant to be fun, but it can also really throw kids for a loop because they don’t understand the rules. Why are they allowed to stay up to watch “Elf” one night but not the next? How come they can have extra cookies when Auntie visits when but not when Grandma does? When will they get a turn to light the menorah or put the star on top of the tree? It’s confusing, it’s frustrating, and (as you’ve probably heard) it’s just not fair.
Since the rational part of a kid’s brain develops much more slowly than the emotional part, they’re often ruled by their emotions. That means that when they feel confused or frustrated or encounter an injustice, it can bubble up and cause a major meltdown. It’s not necessarily something they want to do, and they truly don’t know how to stop it. They’re still learning to regulate those emotions and express how they’re feeling in calm and clear ways.
Can’t my child just be quiet and behave?
There’s a reason holidays like Thanksgiving are notoriously stressful. There’s a lot of activity, there’s a lot of noise, and there’s a lot of friction. After sitting around listening to your uncle spout politics that are different than yours or hearing your cousin criticize your kids for the 84th time, you may (definitely will) hit your breaking point. That might mean you gracefully excuse yourself to go scream in your car – or less gracefully scream at everyone in your general vicinity.
Kids reach their breaking points, too, and that’s often when they start to whine. They’re too tired, hungry, hot, bored, over-stimulated, or anything else, and they can’t take it anymore. It all comes back to their developing brains and not knowing how to express themselves in words –which can be pretty difficult for adults to do, too. Instead of (or sometimes in addition to) screaming, they whine.
“It's really a child expressing their emotional state or even their thought,” explains Dr. Neha Navsaria. “Whining and complaining are the precursor skills that lead to the healthy skill of how you articulate your need in a productive way or have problem-solving conversations with somebody.”
How do I get my kid to stop ruining the holidays with whining?
While it’s tempting to fall back on the Elf on the Shelf or threaten the kids with Santa’s naughty list, that may not be the most effective way of dealing with holiday whining. Instead, try these tips, which may help you prevent whining or stop it if it starts.
Keep things consistent. There are bound to be late nights or times the kids can have extra cookies, but try to stick to your regular schedules and routines on those normal days between special events.
Establish expectations. If you’re running into the mall to pick up a hostess gift but don’t have to time to stop to see Santa, give your kid the heads up before you even get in the car. When they know what’s going to happen, they can prepare themselves to handle it.
Plan ahead. It’s a no-brainer that your child is going to whine on the four hour car ride to Grandma’s, so be prepared. Pack snacks, entertainment, and a cozy blanket so you can meet all of your kid’s needs quickly before whining morphs into meltdown.
Compromise when it’s reasonable. Research shows acceptable compromise may help resolve whining situations, so give a little when you can. Saying “Okay, five more minutes,” can go a long way toward helping your child feel like they have a little control.
It can feel really frustrating when you’re knocking yourself out trying to make the holidays special, and your kid whines their way through Zoo Lights or gingerbread decorating. You may want to ignore it, but Dr. Navsaria says you can actually use it as an opportunity to connect. If you take a minute to help them figure out and label how they’re feeling – sad, hungry, tired – and then empathize, you can take care of whatever they need, stopping the whining now, and teach them to express and meet that need themselves to stop the whining in the future.
To do this, Dr. Navasaria recommends getting down on their level, making eye contact, and acknowledging the reason they’re whining – even if you think that reason is lame. “It's really easy to minimize the child's fixation, because you think, ‘You're going to forget about this when we leave the store,’ but to the child, in that moment, it means everything. It's extremely important to validate what they're feeling about that.” Making that connection can make your child feel loved and supported – and make the holidays more enjoyable for everyone.
Want to learn more about “Whining and Complaining?” Start your path to a solid parenting foundation in just 10 minutes a day. Check out the HelloJoey app.