Question:  My daughter is 8 and in second grade. She does excellent in school, wonderful report cards, however at home it is a different story.  She whines, fights, and argues with her little brother non-stop. The whining is the big problem. She is whining about everything; supper, bedtime, school work. When I set down rules, she tries to navigate around them, and has temper tantrums. I am at my wits end. I have tried to sit and talk with her but it hasn’t helped. Suggestions?

Myrna Shure:  I can understand how frustrating, and irritating your daughter’s whining must be, and feeling that you’ve tried everything makes you feel exasperated.  I think given that so many events trigger her whining, that whining is her solution to the problem at hand, not the problem itself.  

There are ways to talk with her that are effective, and ways that are ineffective.  If you just explain to her why she shouldn’t whine, or even suggest how she should express herself, that is doing the thinking for her, and doing all the talking and all the thinking.  By age 8, she’s heard these suggestions and explanations many, many times and probably just tunes out.  If that happens, you probably feel more exasperated, and may end up yelling or otherwise punishing her.

Try one simple sentence next time she whines:  “Can you think of a different way to tell me how you feel?  If she’s arguing with her little brother, ask, “Can you think of a different way to tell him what you’re upset about right now?”

This simple question stops children in their tracks.  Many children simply smile, and that’s the end of that.

If your daughter names something that’s really bothering her, ask:  “How do you think I feel when you talk to me like that?”  “How do you really feel inside right now?”  These questions are important so your daughter thinks about her own and other’s feelings, the beginning of empathy.  Empathic children do not want to upset other people.  Then ask, “Can you think of a different way to solve this problem?”  If she is involved in thinking about what to do, she is much more likely to actually carry it out than an idea demanded, suggested, or even explained by the adult, in this case, you, the parent.