My mother rarely baked. There was no need to do so as she was blessed with her own mother nearby who happily delivered mouth-watering birthday cakes, challahs and holiday specialties. We even had a great kosher bakery only a few blocks away from our house. Between Grandma and Mottel’s Bakery, our home was well stocked.
Baking was not an easy activity to do in my mother’s kitchen. The necessary utensils were kept either high up or low down. Mom stored roasting pans in the oven. This meant they needed to be moved elsewhere before you could bake. Making cookies or a cake meant spending a fair bit of time and energy just pulling the necessary items together and clearing space. Did my mother not bake because it was so much trouble or did she organize her kitchen in this way because she didn’t plan to bake? I do not know.
I do know that we can make many of the things that drain our energy much easier by organizing things differently. Whining and nagging children are a prime example. If we are at the end of our rope because of our children’s incessant demands, the good news is that the problem most likely lies with us, not them. While this may be a bitter pill to swallow, it means that the solution is in our hands. Even if we are willing to live with unpleasant brats, we owe it to our children to help them become individuals who others will also want to be around.
Children nag because it works. Every single time we say no and then change our minds after hearing a request repeated a few times, we teach our children to bug us. Every single time our “no” is met with sulking or aggression or tears and we respond with an emotional outburst of our own, we send the message that our children can control us. Whenever we agree to a an appeal that was delivered in a whiny or impolite tone we provide positive reinforcement for that method of communication, regardless of whether we are happy to say yes to the particular request.
Here are four steps that worked in our home. Obviously, it is easier to set up a relationship this way from the start and it takes longer and much more patience to break established bad habits. As with any new skill, these steps may feel unnatural at first and require intense concentration. When we make a mistake, we need to try over and over again, just as we do when learning a new sport or how to play a musical instrument. Eventually, we begin to do things instinctively and that is when we reap the benefits.
The happiest families I know are those where the parents really enjoy spending time with their children. No one that I know looks forward to stomach flu or lice infestations or some of the other accompaniments of family life. But there is every reason to expect to take pleasure in the majority of our time with our children. We are in charge of making that happen.
1) Don’t respond to your children instinctively or with your attention focused elsewhere. From a very young age children can learn not to interrupt a telephone call or conversation. From a slightly older age, we parents can learn not to answer the phone, or respond to other attention-diverting technology, or to try to have an intense adult conversation at times when we know that our focus should be on our children. We need to be present in more than a physical sense when interacting with our children.
2) It is completely appropriate to remind a two-year-old to say please. It is completely absurd to remind a seven-year-old of these same words. If they are missing, or if your child’s tone of voice is unpleasant or rude explain (softly and matter-of-factly) that you aren’t able to listen to a request presented in such a way and your child can try again in five minutes. Then set a timer so you both know when the time is up. Depending on the age, there might be an “X strikes and you’re out” rule.
3) When everyone knows the rules, life is simpler. If sugary snacks or computer time or messy arts and crafts are limited to certain times and occasions, then no one will expect them to be available around the clock. Very few children in Vermont beg to go to the beach in February. If you never allow the glitter to come out within an hour of bedtime, no one will ask for it.
4) Some of the whiniest children I know are the children of complaining, less-than-grateful adults. Monitor your interactions with your spouse, parents, siblings and children. Do you speak to each other respectfully and in a pleasant tone of voice? Are you rude to other people in your life? Do you model gratitude or entitlement as you go through your day? We can’t expect young children to behave better than we do.
We spend a great deal of time with our children. Let’s not let whining ruin those special hours.