Structure actually does a lot for avoiding whining. On the simple and obvious side, a well-rested child whose tummy is satisfied is going to whine less. Structure lends itself to naps, consistent bedtimes, and regular meals.
But structure moves beyond that. Adding the right structure to your day builds attention span.
You don't want to spend the day jumping from activity to activity as your child desires. There is a place and value to free play, but the entire day should not be free.
On Becoming Preschoolwise says the parent should choose not only the activities of the day, but also the starting and stopping times of the activities. "Left to choose for himself, a preschooler will generally spend too much time flitting from one activity to another or following Mom around expecting her to entertain him. Flitting and following generally lead to whining and discontent" (page 119).
Preschoolers need guidance and encouragement to stick with activities longer than their natural tendancies desire. For example, you might be working on a craft project with your preschooler. She might want to stop after about five minutes (not all would--some live for craft projects). You can help encourage her to stick with it and finish the project. This is great for a preschooler to do so she can learn to build her attention span for school and further learning.
You need to choose appropriate activities and require an appropriate amount of time--neither too much nor too little. "As your child grows and matures, work on increasing the length of time he spends happily engaged in each activity. This will increase your child's attention span" (page 119).
Structure also adds the element of no time spent wandering and wondering what to do. If you have independent play, meals, nap or rest time, learning time, family time, sibling time, outside time, chores, etc. planned into your day, your child won't have to sit and wonder what to do next. That leads to less whining. Again, free time is valuable and should be a part of your structured day.
If you find your child is whining a lot, spend some time analyzing the structure in your day. Do you have enough? Are you working to develop your child's focusing and independent skills? Is your child getting the rest and food she needs? Address this simple area first when trying to troubleshoot a whining problem.
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