Q. I am at a loss for how to parent my 5 yo daughter. She does whatever she wants, including things that are dangerous or destructive, even when she knows and has agreed to the rules. This morning we were all in the living room and she left to go to the bathroom. After a little while I went to see what she was doing and smelled a very strong odor. I asked her what it was, and she said bug spray. She had found a can of bug spray and sprayed the entire thing over every surface of the bathroom. She has also taken pens, etc. and written on anything and everything including walls and furniture. She’s taken scissors and cut things. She’s dumped out entire packages of food to make her own creations. She’s squeezed out entire tubes of toothpaste. She says she knows she shouldn’t do these things but does them because she just wants to. Nothing has ended in a lasting solution. I’m not handling things well. I yelled a lot this morning. Right now she is being supervised 100% of the time. I don’t like exerting that level of control and I don’t think it’s really healthy for her or me, but I don’t know what else to do.
I’ve never met a parent who likes—no, is even okay with—whining. For me it was like nails on a blackboard. Many parents don’t know of another torture that would be worse.
Whining is as developmental and normal in a toddler’s life as discovering the pleasure of saying “no”. Don’t think about teaching your child not to do it. Do think about ways you can help yourself deal with it calmly and perhaps shorten it’s duration. Here are a few:
1. Don’t call it whining. It’s very hard to talk to your child about whining without being critical and blaming. “Stop whining.” “I can’t hear you when you’re whining.” These proclamations will not get you what you want. It may only make it worse.
2. Make a compassionate association when you hear it. Can you instead think about how frustrated your child is feeling—even if it’s over something you won’t allow. I once heard Aletha Salter say that whining is stuck crying. A child who whines is actually trying hard not to cry so the cry gets stuck. Sometimes validation of the frustration will bring on the crying which eliminates the whine—for now.
In the teachings of yoga, tension is experienced and released on three levels. The first and most obvious is the physical, next the emotional and finally the mental. In parenting it is the same thing. Our outward manifestations of tension, stress, worry, fear is in the physical—yelling, tone of voice, language, facial expressions. These physical aspects are underlined by the emotional—frustration, anger, exhaustion, defeat, hopelessness. But underneath it all is the mental—our perceptions, the ideas and beliefs we hold about ourselves and our children, the standards of behavior we buy into, our expectations. In order to effect change in our physical and emotional reactions to our children, we must address our mental state. How is it that you see and think of your children? Are they in general a pain in the neck? Do they never listen or do what they’re told? Do you doubt everything and think you don’t know what to do? Or do you feel confident in yourself, mistakes and all? Do you know that this too will pass? Are you able to drop into the moment with your child without focus on the past or future? Your mental state is what starts it all. How you think of yourself, how you think of your children informs everything you do. It is this mental strain that needs releasing. Practice breathing into it.