Q.My son is 2, so he is slightly terrible.
Whining is his problem and it is a huge one. I really have no idea how to tame this habit, or how to deal with it. His requests are completely unintelligible and are followed immediately by whining if he doesn't get what he wants. This sends me straight into frustration mode.
I have tried to calm him down. I have tried speaking to him quietly. I have walked away until he can speak "normally." I have spanked him. I have tried everything I can think of and I still don't know what to do.
There isn't much I won't let my son have -- I have pretty much cleared my home and cabinets of things that he can't or shouldn't play with -- but how do I know what to give him if I don't know what he wants?
A.Every child has one particular behavior that drives his parents nuts, but nothing drives them nuttier than whining.
Try not to take this behavior personally. Your little guy isn't being mean or obnoxious on purpose. He's just trying to exert his independence.
Few accomplishments are as important.
According to psychoanalyst Erik Erikson -- one of the most significant and original thinkers of our time -- people are supposed to develop psychologically and socially in eight stages between ages 1 and 70, but he says we must reach them in sequence. If we don't, we can't go forward, although we can still catch up, even years later. This is harder to do and more painful, however, so it's best to stay on track.
Some stages are slow and seemingly uneventful, like the stretch between 6 and 11 -- when children must learn to work hard and well -- but other stages, like the "slightly terrible twos," are fairly quick and can be quite disconcerting.
Despite the whining, tantrums and other rebellions, this stage is an essential building block of character, for it gives a child the stuffing he needs to stand up to a bully on the playground when he's 10, take on a challenging job when he's grown, or quit a stupid one even if he doesn't have another job lined up.
But does this mean that you should let a 2-year-old whine his little life away? Nosirree. If you routinely let your child use bad behavior to get what he wants, he will become more and more anxious and pushy as he tries to find out where his boundaries are.
The quickest way to put an end to the whining is to joke a little, saying, "I'm sorry, honey, I can't hear you. Somebody is whining around here," or you pick up goofy things that you're sure he doesn't want and say, "You mean you want this mop? These high heels?" Silly routines may work but only if you can laugh and use a jolly voice, so your son will start laughing, too.
But since you probably won't feel so lighthearted, it would be best to ignore his whining instead. Really. The next time your little boy whines, don't respond. Don't make eye contact. Don't answer. Just go about your business. For the first few days your son will whine harder and longer because children always get worse when they have to change their behavior, but then he'll begin to talk a little more clearly.
At that point, you should compliment him, encourage him and thank him for saying his words so well. If parents notice their child's good behavior about 10 times as often as his bad behavior, he will improve rapidly.
If you want specific, explicit responses to handle all kinds of issues -- and of course, you do -- read "Getting Your Child From No to Yes" by Jerry Wyckoff and Barbara C. Unell (Meadowbrook, $10). These authors tell readers not only what works but also why one approach works better than another.
Other good books are "Win the Whining War & Other Skirmishes" by Cynthia Whitham (Perspective, $13.95), which is based on the work of the Parent Training Program at UCLA, and "Redirecting Children's Behavior" by Kathryn J. Kvols (Parenting Press, $14.95), which relies on the time-tested Adlerian method.
Each book, in its own way, will help you become a better parent.
Questions? Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org or to Box 15310, Washington, D.C. 20003.