If there were a list of the top five things children do to annoy their parents, whining would definitely be on it! There is something about both what is said and the way it is said that can test the patience of any parent. You’ve probably asked them to stop whining or told them you can’t ”hear” them when they whine. Those tactics may work in the moment, but what you really need is a long term solution.
At its core, Christian parenting is about the heart of the child. It’s helping to shape the attitudes and decision making processes of your children so they reflect God’s image more accurately. Children can fake appropriate behavior in front of adults, and still have a heart that is full of selfishness and evil. A godly heart, however, will produce godly behavior more consistently in the presence of everyone.
So what is at the heart of whining? A lack of gratitude for the blessings they already have as well as a lack of patience, self control and a host of other Christian virtues. Thankfully, there are four ways you can begin to help them build character that should also reduce the amount of whining you hear in your home.
- Gratitude. Whining is about wanting something you don’t have and can’t get immediately. It can be a sign of a building sense of entitlement. You don’t have to guilt your kids into a sense of gratitude, but regularly spending time as a family being grateful to God and others for the gifts they have given you helps. Your family should spend a little time each day reflecting on God’s blessings during the day and thanking Him for them. You should also be the first to thank others, whether it’s someone who gave you a gift or the person who hands you your order at the fast food place. Hearts trained to look for things to be grateful for are less likely to see things to whine about.
- Perspective. This one must be done carefully or it ends up being prideful. As silly as the saying “Starving children wish they could eat the food about which you are whining“ might be, there is some truth to it. Whining is constantly comparing ourselves to the perfect person with the perfect life and complaining we are currently missing some aspect of that life. It’s a pity party with a show. Unfortunately in our world today, the poor are often separated from not just the rich, but the middle class as well. Your kids may have never seen what life is like for a peer whose parents have less money than you. Once again, be careful so this doesn’t create a prideful spirit, but expose your kids to life in poverty. (This is best done when serving others and sharing your faith.) Watch documentaries about life for children in other environments. Read books designed to encourage empathy. With older children and teens, you can look at statistics and find ways to help end poverty, food insecurity and homelessness. Your kids need to learn these are complex problems, requiring complex solutions. In learning about those issues and finding ways to help, they may gain the perspective they need on their own lives.
- Service. Serving others well requires taking your mind off of your own needs and focusing on the needs of others. The same child who whines for the perfect afternoon snack will forget to ask for one at all if he or she is fully engaged in serving someone else. Since we usually serve someone who is struggling in some way, serving them can also give your kids some perspective on their own lives.
- Personal Responsibility. In our house, when someone begins to whine, we ask an important question. ”Have you done everything you can to personally rectify (fix) the situation?” If whining is involved, the answer is almost always ”no”. Why? Because whining is wanting someone else to ”fix” your problem for you and quickly. If there was something your child could have done to personally take care of an issue, make them do it. Only if the child has done everything he or she is allowed to do to solve the issue, should you agree to help (if asked without whining!).
Remember, whining can quickly become a habit that must be broken. In that case, you will need to teach your kids how to break bad habits, in addition to the skills above. Be aware of your own tendency to whine and complain and work on it with your kids. Your kids will often follow your example, so you will need to stop your own whining if you expect them to stop as well.