The Annoyance of Whining (Emerging Communication Skills)

Dear Daughter,

You’re nineteen months old and your whines cut straight through me. They’re endless sometimes. You whine for everything you don’t have words for, or all the words that you forget in that moment where you feel a need or a want and can’t pull the words out of what you’re feeling.

Whines are just the sad and ouchy things, the urgent wantful wishful things, the hungry needing things. All the things you haven’t found words for yet. Something less of an emergency than cries, but that tries to tell me that something is on your mind. They are just a quiet sound that you hope my heart can translate rather than becoming annoyed.

I won’t let you down, I’ll look at your face, your body. I’ll try to see your need. I’ll offer up the words you’d like to be able to say. One day you’ll know how to say them, how to remember them in the heat of the moment.

You’ll be able to do this because I do this with you now.

I’ve been taught that whining is annoying, that it’s manipulative. “Don’t whine!” “Always whining.” “The whining’s driving me nuts.” “She whines like a baby.” “He won’t stop whining about the toy he wants.” These are the words that have been put in my head by other people, the words that color my emotions red and reactive.

The truth is, whines are a communication of want and need that are somewhat less urgent than cries. They’re a placeholder for words that you’re trying to reach for but that you can’t yet grasp hold of.

The whining’s just the words you’re looking for, and I’m here to help you find them.

You whine and lean your body towards something. I point around and ask “that?” And you learn to point at the things that you want.

You whine and grab at my shirt. I ask “nursh?” and I make the sign that we use. You learn the words.

“Sleepy?” “Hungry?” “That toy?” “Do you want me to carry you?” “Bored?” “Tired?” “Scared?” “Do you want me to put you down?” “All done with the stroller?” “That?” “You want to know the word for that?” “Yes! It’s a cat. Look at the cat run. Run. The kitty’s running!”

Choosing to put the words of others out of my head means that I don’t mistake the “makes me need to respond” feeling that whining brings on for agitation. The annoyance is something that the words of others has put into my head. Your whines are no different from a hungry newborn rooting. They are a call waiting for a response.

That response does not need to be the ineffective annoyance that I have been handed. It’s not you that I should be annoyed with when you’re just doing what you’re supposed to do. I should be annoyed at all the people that have told me that whining is useless or manipulative instead of telling me that it’s something to listen to carefully so that I can translate it to the words you’re trying to learn.

All I need to do is give you the words that you were looking for, and in time you’ll be able to choose the words instead.

<3 Mama

One thought on “The Annoyance of Whining (Emerging Communication Skills)

  1. This is so timely for us right now. Within the past week, my 17 no old daughter found the words ‘no’ and ‘mine’. We are working through it, but it’s challenging. I find myself telling my partner ‘ she just can’t find the words she needs right now’ when he or I react the way we’ve been taught – to immediately get annoyed or say no back. Thank you for your posts. I think of them constantly as I tackle and enjoy this adventure called parenthood.

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