Dear Polly, Angela is a bright and sweet little girl, but when things don't go her way, she can't seem to take it in stride. Her daily whining is beginning to drive me crazy! What can I do about it?

First, realize that a certain amount of whining is normal in young children. Though some children do whine to teachers, most children save this behavior for their families. (Children tend to feel freer to express negative feelings at home.) So you could even take Angela's whining as a compliment that she feels so comfortable with you. Meanwhile, here's what you can do to stem constant complaints.

Why does she whine? Let's face it: There are times when most of us feel like whining. (To those of you who are exceptions: Congratulations on the cheerful outlook!) Since many adults complain and whine when things don't go their way, we shouldn't be surprised when children do it too. And, as with all annoying behaviors, some children do it more than most! On the other hand, sometimes extreme behaviors are clues to real problems. Some children have a generalized sense of injustice-no matter what the situation is, they feel like victims. This can come from being overindulged at home. Maybe they're used to getting their way all the time and are shocked when they're expected to accommodate other people at school. Or the opposite can be true. Some children develop a victim mentality because they really have been profoundly deprived in some way-by the loss of a parent, by a lack of love, or even by abuse.

Next, think about whether you can pinpoint certain situations or times of day when Angela is more prone to whining. For instance, does she whine mostly in the beginning of the day? (If so, perhaps she's having trouble transitioning from home to school.) Think about what makes her act whiny: Does one particular child continually take her toys or ignore her ideas? Does your daily walk down the street to the park make her feel nervous? Could she be hungry?

Cut whining off before it starts. Whatever the cause, you can help Angela by teaching her ways to cope when things don't go her way. Encourage her to clearly state what is bothering her, consider what she has said, and then give her a clear response-once. Do show you care about her and value her opinions by paying attention to what she has to say. Don't reward her for whining by continuing to discuss the issue with her.

Also, once you can predict the whininess, think about ways to intervene-before she starts to whine. For instance, maybe she could relax in the cushion corner with a favorite toy when she arrives instead of immediately joining in the class activities. Keeping some healthy snacks available to the class at all times can help stave off the hungry-whinys.

Talking about the situation teaches Angela that she doesn't have to cope with feelings of anxiety or tiredness by whining. For instance, ask: "Are you having a hard time getting used to school today? Why don't you rest here until you're ready to join in?" or "Would you feel safer if you held my hand (or the hand of a special friend) as we walk to the park?"

With your great guidance, Angela should learn to manage her own whininess-and, just maybe, grow up to become one of those people we congratulate for their cheerful outlooks!