Helping Our Children Learn Better Ways to Communicate

Ginger HubbardBy Ginger Hubbard14 Minutes

All parents want their children to whine less, but few notice that they might have a problem with whining too. In Sam and the Sticky Situation: A Book About Whining (part of the Teaching Children to Use Their Words Wisely Series), Ginger Hubbard and Al Roland help families think about whining with a silly story that will not only make them laugh but will also encourage them to see how whining stems from a heart that wants things more than God. The parent resource page at the end of the book presents a biblical framework and practical suggestions to help children understand why they whine and how to learn a better way of expressing themselves.

In the story, Sam has figured out a way to get what he wants when he wants it — he whines. In fact, it works so well that he’s started whining more and more to get his way. Not only does Sam’s mother give into his whining very quickly — he learned how to whine from her. But Sam finds himself in quite the sticky situation when his whining leads him to being covered with cotton candy and stuck on the top of a Ferris wheel!

In this interview with Ginger, we talked to her about how to help children break the bad habit of whining and learn better ways to communicate.

Q: Why Do You Think Whining Has Become Such a Problem with Children in Today’s Culture?

One of the issues behind whining is a lack of self-control. Children who use demanding forms of communication to express their wants and needs are in bondage to their emotions and lack self-control. An addiction to whining does not make for a happy child or a happy parent.

In Proverbs 25:28, God compares a person who lacks self-control with a city whose walls are broken down. In Galatians 5:22–23, he deems self-control so important that he lists it as a priority virtue. In Titus 2:12, he says that by his grace, we are to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled lives.

God’s commands are for the purpose of his glory and our joy. Honoring God by speaking with a self-controlled voice accomplishes both purposes. When we choose to obey his commands, he puts joy in our hearts, which reflects his own joy of being glorified. It all works together in such a beautiful way.

Q: There Are Probably a Lot of Parents Out There Who Are at a Loss for How to Address Whining with Their Kids, So They Find Themselves Resorting to Methods That Are Ineffective. Can You Identify Some of Those Ineffective Methods and Share Why They’re Not Beneficial?

Parents should avoid scolding. Scolding is an angry response that will stir anger in the hearts of our children. Proverbs 15:1, says, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” When we train in anger, we are not modeling the self-control that we desire our children to learn.

Parents should avoid ignoring their children or giving in to their demands. To ignore a whining child is to shirk our responsibility to train them, and to give in to their demands will reinforce the wrong behavior.

To respond to a whining child using any of these methods is to selfishly place our own interests above the interests and well-being of the child. God has placed parents as the authority over children to teach them, not to ignore them or to get them to “hush” by indulging inappropriate behavior.

Q: How Can Parents Help Children Understand the Heart Issue Behind Whining and Teach Them to Be Better Communicators?

I recommend three simple steps.

1. Ask Heart-Probing Questions.

Asking questions helps your child to take ownership for his own behavior. You might ask, “Sweetheart, are you talking with a self-controlled voice?” If he shrugs his shoulders instead of answering, gently speak the truth on his behalf: “No, you were not talking with self-control.”

2. Reprove Your Child for Whining.

Don’t overdo your reproof. You might simply say, “Honey, God wants you to have self-control, even with your voice (Titus 2:12). Because you need to learn to speak the right way, I will not discuss this while you are whining.” Explain to your child that not only does God command him to have self-control, but that when he asks God for help, God will empower him to live in accordance with his command. You might say, “Did you know God will help you to speak with self-control if you ask him?”

3. Train Your Child to Speak with Self-Control.

Explain that it is love that motivates you to train him. You might say, “Sweetheart, I love you too much to allow you to speak foolishly. Because I want to help you learn to speak with self-control, I’m going to set the timer for three minutes. When the buzzer goes off, you may come back and speak the right way.” It may be necessary to demonstrate the correct way to speak to help your child along. If the child refuses to come back after the three minutes, a natural consequence would be that he doesn’t get to have that conversation with you. (Cute timers for children are available at

Q: Once Parents Start Implementing This Training, How Long Does It Normally Take Before They Start Seeing Change?

Parents who are consistent with this teaching are telling me that their children are absolutely transformed in the way they communicate in one week or less. It’s an easy way to address it, and if you’re consistent, it works!

We often find ourselves scolding, ignoring, or giving in because we don’t really know how to respond. We don’t have a plan. So out of frustration, we respond in ways that aren’t beneficial. This plan not only helps us stay consistent, but it also gives us a self-controlled way to respond to whining.

Q: How Would You Address the Issue Differently with Older Children Who Whine?

When older kids whine and demand that their wants and desires be met immediately, it can be rooted in sin of idolatry. It’s vital that we recognize it in ourselves as well. We can know that whining has become the idolatry of selfishness, when we start believing that our temporal wants and desires are going to satisfy us more than God.

1 Timothy 6:17 tells us that God “Richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment,” but those gifts for our enjoyment become idols when they’re desired and enjoyed over God himself. A good indicator that gifts are becoming idols is when the absence of them or withholding of them ruins our trust and delight in the goodness of God.

As children mature, we want to begin warning them against the dangers of idolatry. A simple way to explain that might be to say something like, “Idolatry is when a person or thing is loved more than God, wanted more than God, desired more than God, treasured more than God, or enjoyed more than God.”

Q: Can You Tell Us How This Book Will Help Children Learn About the Dangers of Idolatry and the Importance of Self-Control?

In the story, Sam and the Sticky Situation, Sam figures out that he gets his way when he whines, so he starts whining more and more. But as a result of all his whining, Sam finds himself stuck in the sticky situation of being covered in cotton candy from head to toe and stuck on top of a Ferris Wheel.

Later in the story, Sam’s mom winds up confessing to her own problem with whining, which God uses to help Sam realize his problem. In the end, they both learn that nothing they want is more important than God. They also learn the value of self-control and the importance of asking for God’s forgiveness and help.

Q: In Sam and the Sticky Situation, Sam Has Picked Up on His Whining Tendencies from His Mom. As Parents, When Our Children Struggle with an Issue, Should We Look Inward to Examine Our Own Hearts to See If We Might Be Struggling Too?

Yes, we’re told in Matthew 7:5 that we should remove the plank in our own eye and then we can see clearly to remove the speck from someone else’s eye. There is one thing we all have in common with our kids. We are sinners in need of a Savior just as much as they are. We need God’s rescuing grace and help as much as they do, and it’s encouraging for them to know that. As parents, we need to be honest with our kids about our own struggles at age-appropriate levels.

It’s okay for us to say to our children, “I was whining about having to do the laundry this morning, but my whining and complaining was not honoring to God. I’ve asked him to forgive me. Will you forgive me, too?” When we admit our own sin and our own need for Jesus to our kids, it encourages them to do the same.

Q: What Tools for Parents Are Included in Each Book of the Teaching Children to Use Their Words Wisely Series After The Story Itself?

At the end of each book in the series, there is a resource page for parents and caregivers that supplies biblical content and practical strategies for the problem at hand.

The parent page at the end of Sam and the Sticky Situation presents a biblical framework and practical suggestions to help children understand why they whine and how to learn a better way of expressing themselves. The parent page at the end of Chloe and the Closet of Secrets offers advice to help children understand what a lie is, some reasons that they lie, and the power of confession and forgiveness.

Order your copy of Sam and the Sticky Situation: A Book about Whining by Ginger Hubbab & Al Roland