A couple people have asked in the comments about the younger group of fussy hearts. Our little kids listen and hear bits and pieces of what we tell the big kids, but it is true that the subtleties of the spider or horse story are definitely lost on them. So we have a few other things that we have tried with them and have found success with. Since the twins just turned three we have both a boy and a girl in this range.
With Titus, we talk about a dragon. When he starts to fuss, I tell him that I think I can hear the fussy dragon. I tell him that he can kill it, or I will have to do it. We have read St. George and the Dragon with him a lot, so the whole knight and dragon thing works easily for him. He uses some of his very hot three-year-old ninja skills to kill the dragon, sound effects and all. If he gets it (as in completely abandoned the fussing), then I give him a high five and admire his skills. If he doesn’t get it, or doesn’t quickly “attack” it, then we go off together to get it through discipline.
With Chloe I often have her show me what a selfish, fussy lady looks like. This involves grabbing something imaginary and squeezing it up close to your chest while making a face that looks like a raisin. Then I ask her to show me what a Christian lady looks like : open hands, open heart, and an open face. This is pretty self explanatory, but I have her hold her hands out to the sides, and an open smile on her face, and take a deep breath. It is pretty much just a body language thing, but it makes sense to her, and helps quite a bit.
With both of them, we do a lot of re-dos. If someone walks into the room, and uses a big whiny voice to ask for pretzels, I will usually say (laughingly) “Oh my goodness! Did you hear that? That was not it!” Then I send them out to come back in and try with the right voice. If I plan to deny the request when I send them back out, I give them a warning. “Go back out and try again with the right voice, okay? But when you do, I am going to say no, so make sure that you do the right thing.” This really clears things up a lot of the time. When they do it right, I give them a lot of admiration for it – hugs, or high fives, or whatever.
I will add that whining and fussing are things that can get you discipline in our house. I find that my own body language matters a lot with the little ones. When I am going to talk to them about it, I make sure to stop what I am doing, stand up, take them with me to another place, or somehow demonstrate that this could very easily be a discipline moment. Basically, I don’t want to be giving them a second chance because I want a second chance to not be interrupted.