On getting your kids to use appropriate voices.


By Leanne Page, M.Ed., BCBA

bSci21 Contributing Writer

“Dear Behavior BFF, I have a 2 ½-year-old son and a 3-month-old daughter. My son has started whining. All the time. It’s grating on my eardrums and making me feel like I’m going to lose my temper. All the time. Please make the whining stop!”

As the mother of a toddler with a new baby on the way- I feel your pain! I really do.  Toddlerhood just can’t be smooth and uncomplicated, can it? Well, the good news is that we can use some positive behavior supports to make our lives that much easier.

The first thing we have to do is manage our own behavior.

We cannot be reinforcing the whining- it will only continue and even happen more often! I’m guessing big brother has to share your time and attention now with new baby. He may whine to get you to respond.

If you try to ignore the whining as much as possible, you’re probably responding and giving in to the whining when you are truly at the end of your rope. Sound about right? Sounds like motherhood. The problem is that intermittent reinforcement (only giving in every so often) is actually one of the absolute strongest schedules of reinforcement. You are strengthening the whining behavior, meaning that he’s actually going to whine MORE!

All we can do is decide to never ever give in to the whining and do everything in your power to follow through on that. It’s hard. Especially if you are sleep deprived and worn out.

Now, what about managing our kids’ behavior?

First, teach your son the difference between whining and using an appropriate voice. You may call this using your big boy voice, talking nicely, using a nice voice, whatever. Define it for him.  Give examples of both and make sure he can identify which is which. Teach the appropriate behavior directly.

Provide positive reinforcement for doing the desired behavior. “If you use your big boy voice all morning, we can _____.” Make sure that there are reinforcers available to your son for engaging in the desired behavior. This can be a structured token economy (read more about that here) or maybe a simple reward for talking nicely to mom all day. Give lots of praise and attention for using the big boy voice.

Make a plan for what to do when the whining happens and STICK to it! When he whines, give one reminder. “Remember you are trying to earn _______ by talking nicely” or “I’m waiting for you to talk nicely.” After that, ignore the whining. Remove yourself from the situation if you need to. As soon as he begins to talk in an appropriate voice- pour on the attention!

Whining can make you crazy. I know. I’ve been there. We have to make a plan and stick to it. Consistency is key but we CAN teach our precious sweet adorable toddlers to actually act like precious sweet adorable toddlers instead of whining at us!

Teach them the appropriate behavior. Reinforce ONLY the appropriate behavior.  Be consistent. You can do this! Stay strong, mama!
Leanne Page, M.Ed, BCBA

Leanne Page, M.Ed, BCBA has worked with kids with disabilities and their parents in a variety of settings for over 10 years. She has taught special education classes from kindergarden-grade 12, from self-contained to inclusion. Leanne has also managed a center providing ABA services to children in 1:1 and small group settings. She has extensive experience in school and teacher training, therapist training, parent training, and providing direct services to children and families in a center-based or in-home therapy setting. Since becoming a mom, Leanne has a new mission to share behavior analytic practices with a population she knows needs it- all moms of littles! Leanne does through her site parentingwithaba.org and through her book ‘Parenting with Science: Behavior Analysis Saves Mom’s Sanity”.  You can contact her at [email protected].

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