Parenting, Self-Development

“Why do my kids keep ____ (whining, begging, throwing fits…)?” Here’s your answer!

You know those irritating things that your kids do that absolutely drive you crazy? Things like whining, telling you “no”, begging, not picking up when you tell them to, throwing tantrums or fits when they don’t get their way? As a parent, you may find yourself asking “Why do they keep doing this?!?” with total exasperation in your voice. I have the answer for you. Sadly, you’re probably not going to like it, but here it is.

Kids do these things because they work! Or because they’ve worked in the past. For one reason or another, their irritating behavior has gotten them exactly what they want. Let’s face it. As humans, when we try things a few times and they don’t work, we usually stop doing them. If you tend to speed down a certain street to get to work quickly and you don’t get caught, chances are, you’re going to keep doing it. However, if you get a speeding ticket, you’re more likely to slow down. If you get multiple tickets on that stretch of road or there is a police officer sitting on that stretch regularly, you’ll probably stop altogether. You’ll either leave earlier and go the speed limit or, if you’re a rebel, you’ll find a different path. Either way, when it regularly doesn’t work for you, you’ll try something else. Our kids are no different than us.

When your kids throw tantrums, it’s like that adult speeding down the road. If it works, they’re going to keep doing it. Even if it only works sometimes, they might be the rebel that keeps trying it until it consistently doesn’t work. I know that sometimes you’re tired and you don’t want to deal, but you have to. If you ever want that behavior to stop, you HAVE to deal with it. You have to be the police officer, sitting in their car, monitoring and controlling the behavior, making sure it doesn’t get them what they want. If you let your kids get their intended result (new toy, later bedtime, more screen time, candy, etc.), you are basically a police officer, watching the stretch of road, letting that speeding car get by with it. And what message does that send to your kids? That it is okay to throw a fit and sometimes it works, so they should just keep doing it. You can replace the words “tantrum” and “fit” with “whining”, “begging”, or whatever else you’re dealing with at your house. It’s all the same. They do it because it works or it has worked in the past.

So how do you fix it? You make sure it DOESN’T work. And you will probably have to do this more than once, especially if you’ve had weak moments in the past where they’ve found success with their behavior. In a calm time, where they’re not ____________ (let’s just say tantruming, for ease of discussion), you need to lay down the rules. This is how you do it:

  • First you need to describe the behavior and be transparent about what is behind that behavior. I suggest saying something like this: I’ve noticed when you want something really bad, you throw a fit. You yell, scream, tell me “no”, cross your arms and turn away from me. It looks like this (model so there is NO question about what you’re referring to). I understand that when you do this, you’re trying to get me to change my mind, but I want you to know that it will no longer work. When you throw a fit, I will make sure you do NOT get what you want, no matter how big of a fit you throw.
  • Next, you need to model what will happen when this behavior happens (and it WILL, so make sure you’re willing to follow through on this!). It helps to have some sort of visual cue, since those don’t initiate backtalk. It could be putting your hands over your ears signaling you won’t listen, turning around and walking away, clapping your hands twice, etc. As you coach them through this, I suggest something like this: I’ve decided that you need a signal that reminds you of this new rule that fits won’t get you what you want. When you start to throw a fit, I will say, “Fits don’t work anymore” and I will turn and walk away from you. It will look like this (model how you will do this calmly…even if your blood is boiling inside). If we are in public, I will say it and then take you to the car so you can throw your fit in there. When you are done, we can talk about what happened, but you will NOT ever get what you want because you threw a fit.
  • Finally, explain why this behavior won’t work any more. It’s okay to tell them you’re tired of it, but honestly the reason you want it to stop is because you love them. When I talk to my kids (or my students!) about these things, I usually say something like this: I love you too much to let you act like this. You are such a good kid and I want everyone to see that. Kids that throw fits and get whatever they want usually don’t make good friends and are hard to play with. I want you to be happy and have friends to play with. I think that is more important than giving you _____________ (more screen time, a new toy, etc.).

And after you’ve done all of this during a calm time where the behavior isn’t happening (this is SUPER important to do), you wait. You wait for the behavior to come. I promise it will, unless you have a child that is like the adult that sees a police officer once on that stretch of road and never speeds again. We know how rare those individuals are, but they are out there! I’m guessing if your child happens to be one of those, however, you aren’t searching for answers on how to make a behavior stop! Once your child exhibits this behavior, you HAVE to do exactly what you said you were going to do. You probably won’t see an exact change the first time it happens. However, if you continue to do this every single time the behavior happens, it’s like giving a person a speeding ticket every single time they speed on a certain stretch of road. They will get tired of not getting their intended result. Consistency is key, and it’s really up to you to make it happen. If your kid keeps doing it, more than likely it’s because it works. The change has to start with you as a parent before you’ll see the change in your kids.

Parenting

It’s okay to tell your kids “no”

When I was little, I don’t remember hearing the word “yes” very often. In fact, I was careful what I even asked for because I felt like if I saved my asking for the things that I REALLY cared about, there might be a chance. I went to the grocery store with my mom. We bought groceries. No toys. No candy. No treats. If I asked for a toy or something that I saw on TV, I was told that I should put it on my birthday or Christmas list. It was extremely rare that we splurged any other time. Were we poor and unable to afford the extras? No! If my parents had wanted to splurge, they could have. But we just didn’t. Honestly, looking back on it, it made the times that they did say “yes” seem so much more exciting and I appreciated it so much more.

So then why, as parents nowadays, do we feel bad saying “no” to our kids? I don’t think it’s just me, based on my experiences with kids in the classroom. I think it’s our culture now to give our kids as much of what they want as we can. Of course, we have limits and when we absolutely can’t, we say “no”. But I would venture to say that our kids hear “yes” more than they hear “no” these days. It’s creating a group of kids that are very entitled. Did we mean to do this? Absolutely not! We’re trying to be good parents. But buying them something each time we go to the store isn’t treating them. Sooner or later, it won’t be enough. THAT will be expected and they will want something additional as a “treat”. Think about when you plan a vacation or a getaway…is it enough? When we were little, one night in a hotel was an exciting adventure and we cherished every moment. It was awesome! Now, I feel like kids get to go places and do things all the time and it’s still not enough. They come back, ready for the next big thing and as parents, we’re scrambling to one-up ourselves. It’s exhausting!

I have to wonder, too, if some of this “yes” business is what’s leading to obesity in kids. I have no research or data on it, but know that it is an ever-growing problem. This brings me to my point of this whole article. The lunch box analogy. As a teacher, I see kids bringing lunches to school filled with the stuff that would have been considered a treat in the past. Their whole lunch box is filled with treats with very little nutritional value. These items are not considered treats anymore…it’s considered their lunch! And THEN they have candy or something even better for their “treat”. It’s the perfect metaphor for what’s happening with kids. One treat was expected, then it became the norm and another treat was added to try to make them happy and surprised. It just kept happening until the stuff that was good for them didn’t fit in the lunch box anymore and it was pushed aside. Instead of caring about their needs, we gave in to their wants.

Hearing “no” is good for our kids! They learn limits, boundaries, moderation, anticipation, self-regulation…all of the things that entitled children don’t seem to have. Imagine if that parent packed their child’s lunchbox to contain all fruits and veggies and a plain old meat and cheese sandwich. (I’ve seen this happen!) The kid opens it up and there’s pouting, shock, bewilderment and usually a refusal to eat anything that’s in there. They go home, complain and whine to their parents how hungry they were, and those treats begin showing up again in lunch boxes. Parents say they don’t have a choice because if they don’t send the treats, their kids will go hungry! Now stop and think about it…will the kids actually starve? No. Will they actually become hungry enough to eat the things that are good for them? Eventually, they probably will. But the kids are in charge. They’re entitled to whatever they want and they know how to make it happen. We’re so busy trying to be good parents, we aren’t realizing what is happening!

Like I said before, it’s really not about the lunch, so even if you send healthy, nutritious, organic lunches with your child (way to go!), I’m still talking to you! I’m referring to the metaphor for what we as teachers have to do in schools. We have to give them what is good for them (hard work, learning, responsibility, self-control, rules…). They don’t like it. They want all of the fun things, but we can’t just give them all of the fun things! They act up, throw fits, go home and then complain to their parents. Sometimes it goes further and it comes back to us as teachers. You guys, it’s HARD to take away the stuff they like and replace it with what they need, especially when that’s all they’ve known in their little worlds. We love them though, and it’s our job to help them adjust to this new normal. For them however, it’s hard to come to school when it’s full of the stuff they don’t have to have or do elsewhere. It seems like year after year, I have concerned parents telling me that after the first month or so, their child is not wanting to come to school and they can’t figure out why. There’s not a specific reason, there’s nothing happening to cause this, there’s really no explanation. Usually, it’s because the novelty of school has worn off and it’s a lot of work that they don’t want to do. If this has been you as a parent, it’s okay! Don’t panic! I saw it happening with my own kids, too. It opened my eyes when I really sat down to analyze what was going on. It’s not too late to make changes to fix this. I can tell you that my kids are going to be hearing “no” a lot more than they hear “yes” this summer before we head back to school. And when I say, “no”, there won’t be a discussion about why I’m saying it. That is really only a tactic to try to persuade me to change my mind. “No” means “no”. I’ve learned a lot in my 14 years of parenting and this is one little gem! Ha!! When it comes down to it, I’m not doing this to be mean, but to break the cycle of entitlement. I love them too much to let them turn out that way. You CAN say “no” and still be a good parent. Actually, you NEED to say “no” in order to be a good parent and it’s never too late to turn things around!

Parenting

Choose Your Battles

One of the best pieces of parenting advice I’ve ever gotten came from my oldest son’s 2-year well-child visit. Our pediatrician at the time very wisely told us that soon we would start having some battles with our son as he began to strive for independence. Her exact words were, “You have to choose your battles. Don’t fight them all. But the ones you choose, you HAVE to win.” This has stuck with me through all of my years of being a parent.

It sounds simple enough, and really the idea of it IS very simple. In reality though, what it means is that you have to pre-think every situation through. When they ask for something or for permission to do something, you have to think it through completely before you give your answer. If you say “no” to playing outside before dinner, are you prepared to stand your ground? Is it important enough for you to go to battle for? If the answer is yes, then carry on. If the answer is no, then don’t say that “no” in the first place.

In that case, you aren’t actually committed to that no. It really doesn’t matter to you, it’s just more convenient if they play inside. But if they start to beg and whine, you don’t care enough to fight the battle. You will most likely give in and then reinforce the fact that fits, whining and begging will get you to change your mind. But the funny thing is, they didn’t! You just never made your mind up in the first place!

I’ve had my fair share of weak moments where I’ve given in or changed my mind, and I can tell you that it makes the next battle even harder. Don’t do it! Save your energy and patience for the battles you care enough to fight for. I’m not saying you should let your kids do whatever they want. I’m not crazy!! I still have stipulations before I say “yes” to things! Whatever reason would tempt you to say “no” in the first place becomes part of the stipulation for getting the “yes”. You want to play outside? Sure, but when I say it’s time to come in for dinner, no complaining and you pick everything up immediately. If they don’t follow those stipulations, there’s a consequence. I’m not letting them walk all over me, but they’re seeing that there’s some give-and-take, even in the yes moments.

Parenting is HARD. There are no perfect days, perfect answers, or perfect situations, no matter how hard you try. As you navigate through though, think your answers through before you give them. Be thoughtful and intentional in your parenting and mean what you say. Your kids will hear “no” less often, but it will mean more and become non-negotiable.