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The Whiner’s Hat

I’m not one to stifle another’s opinion, even that of a four-year-old, however, when it comes to whining, I draw the line. My daughter was delightful until she entered nursery school at the age of three. She quickly learned the tactics of her seniors, the graduating four and five year olds, especially when it came to parental manipulation and one of the most popular tricks of the tots, whining.

Whining, oh, (shudder, shudder). The word itself sounds like nails on a chalkboard, still can send shivers down my spine. Being the sharp mother that I am, it only took me a year or so to win the whining war and it came down to the simple matter of a hat.

One sunny afternoon in the park, my four-year-old daughter was in one of those moods. “Mommy, can I have an ice cream.” 

“No, you already had one. Do you want some grapes?”

“I don’t want grapes, plllllleeeeeaaaaasssseee can I have some ice cream?”

“Honey, no, it’s almost dinner time, just have a little yummy snack.”

“I don’t want that snack, I want ice cream, everyone is having ice cream and I should be able to have some too.”

“Well, we can learn a lesson from this. The next time we come to the park, we will wait to have ice cream and not have it when we first come in.”

“But ... I want my ice cream now,” droning on and on ... once again.

And on it went until I was exhausted from the fruitless argument, I wasn’t going to win, and she wasn’t going to have another ice cream. We both lost as the whining continued about leaving the park, putting on the shoes, not wanting to stop at the grocery store, every action created a new whhhhhiiiinnnning output.

I was over this stage of development and had to find a remedy or I was going to lose my mind. What happened to my smart, obliging baby?

It was just a few days later that I had a flash of momentary brilliance during the fourth of July weekend; why not give my daughter a platform from which to whine once a week, and only once a week.

We sat down to discuss our options and she heartily agreed that she had quite a few complaints. Together we decided that she would have my undivided attention every Tuesday afternoon from 4–5 during which she would voice her opinion without interruption. I would consider her view and we would come up with a joint solution.

I could see her little mind hard at work, without benefit of the written word, she prepared her case. Over the next few days she gathered her little pieces of evidence into a box and waited for her day. I was busy doing my homework, too.

My daughter loved to play dress up and her paternal grandmother supplied her costume trunk with trinkets and hats in addition to the cute little outfits. I sifted through the large wooden trunk looking for some thing to add to this formal occasion and found what I was looking for, the perfect accessory for this auspicious day, a black velvet misshapen floppy hat with a bright flower on the rim.

As my daughter entered the room with her box, I prepared a special chair for her and handed her the hat. She looked at me suspiciously but put on the hat, seated herself, and began her forum with the seriousness of a formal juror. I listened intently as she made her case about the ice cream. As the dialog continued, she suddenly burst out in laughter. I was taken off guard, but held back, not sure of this new strategy, and the laughter continued.

The Whiner’s Club was a resounding success. Giving her a platform from which to express her opinions was apparently what she needed to realize the futility of whining. Maybe it was running out of words after a few minutes, maybe it was my respect for her need to express her opinion and the idea of a negotiated deal, maybe it was the hat, the floppy velvet flower hat, my physical metaphor for the futility of whining. I don’t know, but it worked for us. We met the following Tuesday, but she had nothing to say, no complaints and the club disbanded.

My delightful daughter was back. I’d like to tell you she never whined again and that would have been true for about eight years until she turned twelve two years ago, and that’s an entire book. The point here is that the Whiner’s Hat worked. Like a magic charm we were once again whine free. An unexpected treasure of this story is on the occasions we would see children whining in grocery stores or the park, she would turn to me and give me a wise look, her childhood wisdom, and we would share our special secret of the Whiner’s Club.

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