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Stop the Whining

By Thomas Reimers, Ph.D.

Stop the Whining image

Imagine a finely manicured hand with clear polish on the nails. Now, imagine those nails running slowly down a chalkboard. Hear it? That’s the same sound most parents hear when their child starts to whine.

Whining often accompanies or precedes tantrum behavior, but not always. Children whine for all kinds of reasons, usually because they are upset about something or it has resulted in them getting something they want in the past. They also are more likely to whine if they are sick or fatigued.

Regardless, it is annoying and unnecessary, which your toddler has yet to learn. The good news is that you can manage it fairly easily and effectively. Here are a few tips:

  • Point out to your child that they are whining. Sometimes they are doing so without awareness.
  • NEVER give your child what they want when they are whining. This will only cause them to whine more.
  • The best way to respond to your child when they are whining is to tell them you don’t understand them. For example, “I can’t understand a word you are saying. You’ll need to talk to me in a big boy (big girl) voice.”
  • Silence is golden. Ignoring whining until you hear a tone of voice that is acceptable will send a message to your child that whining has little payoff.
  • Don’t model whining. Adults are just about as capable of whining as toddlers. Do yourself and your toddler a favor by using appropriate behavior and language when frustrated.
  • Reward appropriate language. When your toddler uses an appropriate tone of voice, especially when asking for something or voicing a complaint, acknowledge and praise them. For example, “Thank you for talking so clearly. It helps me understand what you want.” This is especially true if the appropriate voice was used first. Either way, it’s important that your child sees that talking in an age-appropriate voice is recognized by you and has benefits.
  • Distract. Sometimes a simple distraction is enough to get your child off of the whining platform.
  • Time-out. A good old-fashioned time-out is sometimes necessary when the whining persists and all other efforts have not done the trick.