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3 Ways to Stop the Whining

No matter what the origin of whining, the key to stopping it lies completely with the parent.

By Deirdre Wilson

Whining childYou know the drill:

“Can I have some chips for a snack?”

“Nope, it’s almost dinner time.”

“But I’m HUNGRY. I need a snack!”

“I don’t want you to spoil your dinner.”

“I won’t, I promise. Please, Mom? Please, please, PLEEEEEEASE?”

“Oh honey, I don’t know … I just don’t want you to spoil your dinner.”

“But I won’t. I need a snack! I NEED CHIPS NOW!!!” 

Whining can make the calmest parent boil over with anger and the firmest parent give in to a child’s pleas just to quiet him down. It can start as early as age 2, although at that age, whining is a developmental way of combining preverbal crying with newly learned language to express a need.

Regardless, Canadian pediatrician Cathryn Tobin, M.D., author of The Parent’s Problem Solver: Smart Solutions for Everyday Discipline Dilemmas and Behavioral Problems (Three Rivers Press, 2002), is blunt in her definition of whining as “a strategy a child uses to get her way.”

“That’s not to say she doesn’t whine for other reasons,” Tobin writes, “but whining is a powerful tool that a child uses to manipulate others.”

No matter what the origin of whining, the key to stopping it lies completely with the parent.

Nancy Schulman and Ellen Birnbaum, authors of Practical Wisdom for Parents: Raising Self-Confident Children in the Preschool Years (Vintage Books, 2008), remind parents to be consistent about rules, limits and whining. If your answer is a calm “no,” it should remain a calm “no.” If your child asks for ice cream for breakfast each morning for several days, you need to continue dismissing it with a “no” until the child understands that “no” means "no."

What doesn’t work, according to Tobin, are answers such as, “Do as you’re told,” a strong reaction that makes the child feel powerful; or “Maybe next time – OK?” which is essentially asking the child’s permission to say no; or giving in with an “Oh, all right,” which simply reinforces the behavior.

How do you stop the whining? Here are three effective ways:

1. Tell the child she needs to talk to you in her "big kid voice." In other words, whining is what babies do and since she’s a big girl now, she needs to talk to you like one. This usually allows for a calmer discussion.

2. Ignore it. If you’ve said “no,” and even explained why to no avail, ignoring the continued whining can work. Eventually, the child will give up. But you’ll have to steel yourself against exploding with frustration until that happens.

3. Acknowledge the situation, and move on. If the child persists in pleading for ice cream for breakfast, even after you’ve said no, head to the food closet, pull out a couple different boxes of cereal and say, “I can see you’re hungry. Ice cream isn’t for breakfast, but cereal is. Would you like this kind or that kind?”

Updated August 2012 

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