I’m writing a series of blog posts exploring the books “How to be Free” and “The Idle Parent” written by Tom Hodgkinson. I enjoyed a lot of the ideas expressed in these books, and think that exploring them further will help me to explore the principles behind my own way of living and parenting.
Chapter 2 – Stop the whining
Tom suggests that we need to achieve a careful balance. We want to let children play as much as possible (bearing in mind that the last chapter was all about getting them to help around the house), while avoiding spoiling them. This will stop them whining.
The only other animal that moans and whines is the domesticated dog. It's an expression of powerlessness and dependence. They are so used to getting things done for them, that when they want something and it isn't forthcoming, they make the whining noise. We adults do it too. Listen to yourself in the workplace when things aren't going as you'd like - you whine to your colleagues.
So what do we do? We need to either replace the whine with a calm request for help, or we need to teach them to do things for themselves and resolve their own problems. Routines are good. Routines, especially when devised in partnership with the children, and allowing time for play, will empower children to get on with things themselves. We aren't talking about a military style strict regime here, but a simple routine showing what order things get done, applied with a light touch. Naughtiness is the child's way of rebelling against tyranny, so don't be a tyrant.
Another way of stopping the whining is to stop whining yourself. Make sure you get enough sleep and aren't too stressed. Resist the urge to work harder for longer.
Don't give children everything that they ask for. Saying "no" is not unkind. Say it firmly and kindly, and mean it. Saying no to things is helping your child to learn that they don't need those things after all, becoming more self-sufficient and less materialistic in the process.
Learn to say no, avoid situations that lead to arguing and whining (toy shops), and encourage your children to play outside where there is more than enough of everything that they need.
How does this match up to the ink-spots-and-grass-stains life?
I confess that I sometimes catch myself whining at the children. I hear myself moaning that "it isn't my job to pick up after you wretched kids all day long". Instead of whining I should either make sure that they have less stuff to leave lying around, or I should teach them to put it away and look after it.
They don't whine all that much. C has a bad habit of lying on the floor with a pathetic whimper if I'm asking him to do something dreadful like putting his shoes on. Bug does have a bit of a whine when she wants something, but she's only just three, and hasn't realised yet that her immediate desire or occupation isn't the centre of everybody else's universe - it's a hard lesson. I'm pretty good at saying "no". I don't like to get things just because I've been asked. I like the children to earn them, save for them, or even occasionally to get them as a spontaneous surprise, not just because they've asked for them. I also agree that avoiding situations when whining will happen is a good idea. We do occasionally go on shopping forays, where mechanical coin-greedy machines call to the children, where toys are stacked enticingly and where new clothes hang all pristine and wanting to be bought. In those circumstances I like to set expectations: "We're going shopping. These are the things that we need to buy:... We will be going to a toy shop but we will just be buying something for... so don't ask for anything else. You may sit in the silly machine in the shopping centre, but I will not be putting any money in it. When we've finished we'll go to the park." Remind them of these expectations as you approach each bit of the shopping trip. If they know in advance that the answer will be "no", then they rarely bother even asking, certainly not whining about it. And knowing that they'll get a good run around at the end of the ordeal is also useful.