How Children Evolved To Whine – The New York Times


Though whining is awful for everyone within earshot, kids (to say nothing of aggrieved spouses and, apparently, monkeys) reserve whining for people they are emotionally attached to; this isn’t behavior they’ll try with strangers, Dr. Sokol-Chang said.

Even baby monkeys understand that an annoying noise gets them a faster response — especially in public. One study of rhesus macaques showed that mothers attended to their crying infants faster when there were unrelated monkeys around; the researchers surmised that the rhesus mothers were concerned that their babies’ cries, which are “high-pitched, grating and nasty to listen to,” per the BBC, might provoke the other monkeys. As Dr. Sokol-Chang put it, even monkey parents think, “don’t embarrass me in front of my friends.”

So how do you get your whiny kid to cut it out already?

Ignore the behavior. Dr. Dunya Poltorak, a pediatric medical psychologist in private practice in Birmingham, Mich., said the first thing to know is that disciplining children for whining can backfire. “Scolding or disciplining can inadvertently reinforce the behavior. They’re looking for a response; when they don’t get a positive response, they’ll go for the negative one,” Dr. Poltorak said. Children look to you to model behavior, so if you’re yelling, “I can’t stand it when you do that, you drive me crazy!” you’re basically teaching them to give that right back to you.

Dr. Poltorak recommended finding a calm moment and sitting down with your child, saying something like: “I love listening to you and I love helping you. Let’s practice using our nicest words to ask for help, because if you whine or cry or scream, I won’t be able to help you.” Then you need to follow through and ignore your kid when she asks for something in a whiny voice. Children’s whiny behavior may escalate when you begin ignoring it, Dr. Poltorak cautioned, so be prepared to stay the course; in time, they’ll realize whining doesn’t get them the attention they desire. When your child asks for things nicely, make sure to reinforce that good behavior with praise, Dr. Poltorak said.

Catch the whine before it starts. Another tactic, which Dr. Sokol-Chang recommended, is to try to observe your child’s particular behavioral signs that tend to lead up to a whine, so that you can give her positive attention before it even starts. But this isn’t always possible, especially if your child starts whining every time you attempt to have a conversation with another adult.



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