Let’s get my disclaimer out of the way first. Whenever possible, I follow the accepted protocols of parenting. To borrow a term from the search engine optimization world, I do my best to keep it whitehat. Above the belt. Geneva Convention. But as every dad knows, these adversaries we call our children are a reckless bunch, often flagrantly disregarding our accepted rules of engagement. We don’t like to do it, but in the name of maintaining family sanity, we must occasionally don the ski masks, shed the dog tags and regulate. The following techniques are straight from my black book of parenting techniques, section C-47: Counter-Whining Tactics. Warning: may cause Post-Traumatic Guilt Syndrome.
Because this one plays on your child’s inherent concern for your well-being, it is one of the most effective but most guilt-inducing techniques you will ever employ. No matter what junior is whining about, or how intense it has gotten, a sudden shriek of pain from indestructible ol’ dad will put an abrupt end to the episode. Just like that.
Kids don’t really understand things like heart attacks, so grasping your chest won’t do much good. Instead, drop down and grab a knee or ankle. If you can afford to fall to the ground and roll around, do so. Your child’s preoccupation with whatever was concerning him 10 seconds earlier will suddenly be wholly redirected into concern for you. Gradually ramp it down and talk about the injury, engaging your child’s attention and desire to learn about painful things until you’re sure he’s completely forgotten what he was whining about. Get up, brush yourself off, pat him on the back, compliment him on his rescue skills and go get some ice cream (unless that’s what he was whining about in the first place).
Fear is the common denominator when it comes to kids. No matter how bratty, stubborn or difficult a child is, you can always count on the fact that there’s something that will freak them out. Commit these somethings to memory, as you will call upon them in times of need. I call this technique The Spider, but feel free to rename as you see fit.
Let’s say your child is caught in an endless whining loop. You’ve done your reflective listening, you’ve tried offering alternatives, and there’s nothing short of duct tape that will offer you any glimmer of hope. Along comes The Spider…
To initiate The Spider, you need a good set-up. Become engrossed in something –- anything, it does not matter. Just start talking. A few sentences in, focus on a spot across the room and slow down the tempo. Try to go back to what you were saying and then glance at the spot again. This time, widen your gaze, stop talking and drop your jaw. Now compose yourself and speak slowly.
“[name of your kid], don’t make any sudden moves. I think it saw us.”
Your child will now cease to whine, as his or her life preservation instincts kick in. The brave ones will attempt to gather information from you now (I speak from several years of babysitting experience). “Is he coming?” “Is he gonna bite us?” “Is he mad?” Questions are fine. They just give you more opportunity to play this one out as long as necessary. How you end it is up to you. “Kill” the spider, book it to another room (or section of the mall) or just stay absolutely still until the deadly monster spider moves on. The important thing is that you’ve diffused the whining and replaced it with an appreciation for being alive, which is much easier to work with.
In my arsenal of guerilla tactics, this one’s the equivalent of the bean bag gun. It’ll stop the perpetrator, but won’t risk any lasting damage. In fact, this one’s kind of fun. Kids may have us beat in the energy and perseverance department, but we have one significant advantage: vocabulary. Our kids know and accept the fact that we know more words than they do. And they never argue that fact. This is your leverage point. This technique is best illustrated by example:
“Daaad, I want to ride that rocket ship!”
“Son, I don’t have any quarters.”
“Get some! I wanna ride it! I wanna ride it!”
“How can I let you ride it if I don’t have quarters?”
“Find some! I wanna riiiiiiide!”
“You know, the stabilizer is well modulated on the y axis.”
“Yeah, it’s a factor of viscalositytech triangulation theory.”
“What’s a ... theory?”
“A theory is relativity of quantum biosphere electoral college.”
“Steve from Blues Clues went to college…”
“Yes, he did. And his concentration of study resided in template orion power converter.”
“Blues Clues is funny.”
“Yes, it sure is! Hey! What’s that? A Clue? By Starbucks? Let’s go, I’ll buy you a vanilla milk, son!”