How to Stop the Whining and Crying: The Happy Heart Technique
Whining and crying drives me cuckoo. It’s something I’ve wanted to train out of my kids since the moment it reared its ugly head. We are still working on it, believe me, but we have seen major improvement in this area with one piece of advice, “the happy heart.”
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Since our oldest was 18 months old, we have used this happy heart technique to curb whining. This is not for when they are hurt. It is not when they are sad because their fish has died or their feelings have been hurt. This is for those dramatic moments where they are sad because they don’t get what they want and they just decide to pitch a fit.
If the pouting or temper tantrum begins, the child is sent to a removed spot with no distractions (in our house, the stairs). They stay there until their attitude has shifted. This is NOT a punishment. This is NOT a traditional time out. It is NOT a set amount of time. It is always said, “I love having you with me. I want you to be able to play with us and be with us, but it just can’t happen until you are under control with a happy heart. You are feeling frustrated, and I want to talk about it, but this is not how we act.” At that point, the amount of time away is up to them. It could be a second or an hour. It’s never been an hour at our house, but I’ve heard of it happening. The Pritchards, parents of 11 who taught me this trick, have pictures of one of their children asleep on the stairs as they were trying to be able to come back with an improved attitude. I try to make what I am doing with the other kids very appealing so that they want to be able to get control and join the fun.
Kids can feel upset, and their feelings can be validated (even though they might seem extremely irrational to you, we do know they feel these emotions deeply). You can acknowledge their feelings and want to discuss the feelings with a pre-teen, toddler or elementary age child, but you need to choose a time where they are able to do it in a way that is respectful and doesn’t impact the climate of your home. “Happy heart” doesn’t mean they don’t feel their emotions. It is just an outward display of the control they are willing to have in their behavior so that we can actually talk and address the problem at hand. I also want to emphasize that trying to figure out when to teach control and also recognizing the importance of showing empathy to kids is challenging yet important. I do think there is a balance to create and knowing your own children well is a large part of the key.
With the littler kids, we had to do some teaching for them to understand by demonstrating a smile and a calm face. Abby would sit crying and say amid tears, “I have a happy heart.” We also have had to physically put them back on the stairs until they can gain control. As they grow, they understand the concept more and can self regulate. We celebrate their return and continue on without the fuss and take the opportunity to discuss their feelings at this time. As they grew older, we have found other ways to express their feelings like our communication journal.
*Note: After reading some reader comments I stopped using the phrase “happy heart.” You could change it to “I have self control,” or “I have a teachable heart.” I don’t want my kids to feel like they can’t express emotions of anger, fear, frustration, etc. The goal isn’t to make them happy. The goal is to get them to a state where they can work through those emotions productively.
In wanting children to identify their feelings and begin to understand them more, we have used books. Here’s a list of some great looking books that might help you navigate emotions with your kids:
I have also been known to be cheesy and say, “Oh, I’m sorry. I speak English and a little bit of Spanish. I don’t speak Whinese.” Another phrase is, “I’m sorry I don’t understand a word you’re saying when you talk to me like that.” They NEVER get what they want when they are whining and crying. This is so important. They need to learn to understand that it won’t work. In the end, we want to get to our child’s heart and not just their behavior. By emphasizing their heart attitude, the focus in the right place.
We also, as parents, need to recognize that this is a developmental phase. We need to mentally be aware of that so our patience can remain more consistent. Developmental phases are important to be able to identify, but it is our jobs as parents to teach them how to handle what they are feeling and grow through them. We could always make excuses for behavior. “It’s a developmental phase, so I’ll just let them act like a stinker.” “They’re a teenage dealing with emotions, so they are just going to have an attitude problem.” We could continue making excuses for ourselves or our children based on any number of life experiences. However, we need to teach our kids that we are responsible for how we respond to the challenges in life. Make excuses? or learn to deal with challenges, developmental phases or personal struggles in a more effective way? I want my kids to learn to respond to life well rather than blaming other things for their behavior.
A trap I’ve gotten myself into and am trying to work on in regards to this is to not get emotionally involved. I need to keep a happy heart during the technique. I need to disengage from the battle. It is a simple, matter-of-fact approach where you remove yourself from the equation both mentally and physically.
This concepts translates to the older child too. In my post, “Navigating the Pre-Teen Years,” I spoke of giving the children alone time to get their emotions together. Again, we want them to feel and express their feelings. However, we want them to learn how to communicate in appropriate ways without dictating the environment in the home.
If you let your child’s whining and crying dictate the mood in your home, you are doomed for a miserable experience for both you and the child. They need to learn how to express their emotions in healthy ways, and it’s a great lesson in self-control. I literally have had children freaking out crying and switching it off within moments of sitting on the stairs. They can learn this!
Here is some scripture you can help them memorize to get to the heart of the situation, emphasizing that it’s hard to do alone, but with God’s help, we can learn self-control and learn how to cast our cares to him.
* “Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you.” – 1 Peter 5:7
* “Do everything without complaining or arguing.” – Philippians 2:14
* “I can do all things through Him who gives me strength.” – Philippians 4:13
* “Be angry, yet do not sin. Think about this when upon your beds, and be silent.” Psalm 4:4 (This was given to me by a reader in the comments. I love it. It is exactly what I am getting at with this article. Feel your feelings. Identify your feelings. However, don’t let your feelings lead you to a behavior that is harmful. I think the post below is super helpful in helping kids feel, identify and manage their emotions).
I know it is hard and frustrating as a mom to work on eliminating whining in your home. Here are some resources to help mom have a “happy heart:”
Written by my mentors, parents of 11 kids, “Parenting with Truth and Grace Series”