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Responding to whining to and nagging from your kids

“Any advice for very impatient 3 year olds?!?! I’m at my breaking point.  I realize these things take time but I’m losing my own patience. And the guilt trips from (her child) are gut wrenching.  I’ll say, “I will play with you after I finish the dishes.” And she will ask me every 15 seconds if I’m done yet. I say, “you need to be patient...I have to wash the dishes with soap and then rinse them and then dry them and then put them away.”  (I try to explain the step by step process. But then she will reply with “you just don’t love me and don’t wanna play with me.” Wtf?!?! It’s so hard everyday. So so hard. She makes me feel like such a horrible mom.”

You feel the guilt is because you care about your daughter, but it doesn’t mean that you’re doing the wrong thing.  Also, it’s great that you’re explaining your process and not just telling her you can’t play “because I said so.”

One thing that I did with my own kids when they keep asking something repeatedly is to first tell them something like, “I love you and I love to play with you.  I will play with you again when I’m finished washing the dishes. The next time I would only say, “asked and answered.” I would not continuing engaging in conversation until I’m done.  Only say it once.

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Before using “Asked and Answered” (I learned this from Lynne Lott, LMFT!) for the first time you need to explain it.  Let her know that if she keeps asking you a question that you have already answered, you are going to tell her this phrase and not continue answering her over and over and not continue talking about it.  She has already asked, and you have already answered. You mean what you say. In the beginning, she will probably try to keep asking, begging, whining, crying because they will be used to a different reaction and will keep pushing, trying to get that reaction they’re used to.  

Eventually, if you stay consistent, she will learn that you mean what you say and test that boundary less frequently.

As a parent, it’s so hard when we feel guilty about comments like this from out kids.  But, it’s not your job to entertain your kid. They have to learn to keep themselves busy, learn what to do when they’re bored, learn how to continue to explore and play in their own environment and not rely on someone else to do that for them.  If they don’t learn these things when they’re young, they will really struggle with expecting to be entertained all of the time when they’re older. It’s HEALTHY for them to have independent play time, IN ADDITION to quality time with us every day.  Remember, that as long as you do make those meaningful connections every day, you are doing your best and what is best for her.

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With my own daughter, I went through a time period when I felt judged by a certain person in these types of situations or whenever she would cry or whine.  I started feeling like she wasn’t allowed to cry because it meant something was wrong with her or with me as a parent, and didn’t want to feel judged by a certain individual.  I don’t remember exactly how I turned this around, but once I stopped feeling like I had to rescue and entertain her or that she had to be happy 100% of the time, I allowed her to feel her feelings and work through them.  Things started feeling much less stressful for both of us. If she was mad, she was allowed to be mad. If she was sad, she was allowed to be sad and cry and I allowed her the space and support to work through those big feelings.

Have faith in your child that they can work through being disappointed and while it is important to empathize, it is not okay to rescue them from being disappointed.  Have faith that they are still bonded to you even when you don’t play with them every second of the day. And remember that it is absolutely healthy for them to have time to play independently.

Matt Hendon