Even the most patient parents can have trouble keeping their cool when their child starts whining. Knowing these tips to curb this behavior may just be music to your ears.
Every kid does it, some more than others. Whining may be learned from other children, or it may seem to be part of your child’s temperament. Whatever the reason, complaining or begging in that high-pitched, half-crying voice penetrates as deeply into our brain as our newborn’s cries. We feel like doing anything to stop it.
But giving in to a whining child doesn’t stop the behavior. It escalates it. If whining worked last time, your child is learning that it should work this time. And if it doesn’t, surely the solution is to whine more.
Parents, we have to dive deeper into this behavior problem in order to figure out how to put an end to it. These 5 gentle discipline tips for whining can help:
1) Understand the Whining
The first step in addressing this behavior is to understand it. Why do kids whine? This behavior appears to replace crying when toddlers are at a place in their development when they shift from being cared-for primarily by their mothers to being looked-after by a wider array of caregivers.
The high-pitched tones of whining not surprisingly activates the adult brain more quickly than neutral speech. So your child whines to gain caregiver attention on some matter she feels is urgent, and the sound of whining activates your brain to do something about it — now!
In fact, whining is a more immediate trigger for action than even crying.
The thing is, though, our gut instinct to address whining may be to care for the child. But because whining is an irritating noise that distracts us from whatever we’re doing in a time that we know is not a dangerous situation for our child, our knee-jerk reactions are often out of anger.
2) Eliminate 3 Reasons
The reasons children whine as are varied as to what provokes tantrums, but there are 3 stressors to watch for in any home that can greatly reduce the need for urgent attention-seeking behavior like whining:
If your child seems to be whining a lot, run through these 3 possible reasons and address any that may be playing a role to cut down on the overall amount of whining in the moment. Better yet, be proactive and ensure your child is eating regularly and that your child is getting enough nighttime sleep and daytime naps, and then you’ll know that any whining isn’t stemming from a physiological imbalance.
Related: The 3 Causes of Most Tantrums
3) Give More Attention
Since whining is an attention-seeking behavior, it stands to reason that your child may be resorting to this because she feels she isn’t getting enough one-on-one time with you otherwise. While all children need daily one-on-one time, some temperaments need more than others. Try scheduling extra one-on-one time when it seems your child is dialing up the whining.
5) Don’t Give In
That said, it’s important not to mistake “giving in” to your child’s whining as the kind of attention he needs. This is where a bit of discernment comes in.
If your child is whining because he’s hungry, go ahead and offer him a snack. Just as we get cranky when our blood sugar is low, so do our children. When we’re hungry, we can just go get a snack; it’s not as much the case with our children. In the case of a hungry or overly tired toddler, the blame is actually ours as the parents and regulators of our young child’s biorhythms.
But if your child is whining because she wants you to buy a toy at the store, this is not a physiological need. She may be whining because she’s actually hungry, tired, or sick, so these needs should be addressed. But trying to fix the whining by purchasing the toy only teaches your child that whining can be used to manipulate caregivers, as well.
Instead, say no and hold firm. Some kids do well with explanations of why not or given alternatives to their request. Most children do not respond positively to ignoring, a discipline tactic that should only be used sparingly and very carefully in any situation. Instead, be compassionate. You can comfort your child even while not giving in.
Related: How to Parent Your Spirited Child
If your child is in the habit of whining to get her way, expect an uptick in her behavior or full-out tantrums the first few times that you stand your ground. But consistency wins over, and she’ll adjust her expectations soon.
You may feel angry, and it’s important to state this to your child, but try not to yell or react strongly. Our children learn best from what we model. With that said, be careful that you are not inadvertently viewed by your children as whining, even if playfully, whether to your child or your partner.
5) Offer an Alternative
Especially for chronic whiner, it may take some time to get to the point where your child entertains the idea that there are better ways to get your attention than whining. The key is that, whichever alternatives your offer to your child, they are seen to be more effective than her whining. So if you encourage your child to talk in a “normal voice,” be certain to listen for her requests more avidly than you would for her whining.
To a young child, attention is attention and negative attention is better than no attention. Because whining triggers an instant reaction from us — even if not pleasant — this means that we need to learn to tune into any alternative way of communicating just as quickly.