3 Ways to Help Your Child Stop Whining
“That’s not fair!”
“You always say no!”
“You never let me play with my friends!”
“I don’t want to!”
Whining can be irritating and exhausting to listen to—especially if it’s a frequent behavior for your little one. It’s easy to cave to your child’s relentless pleas in order to make the whining stop. But there are simple—and more effective in the long run—ways to disengage from the drama and help your child find a better way to respond.
Listening to your child whine can feel like listening to nails on a chalkboard. It can be incredibly irritating—after all, that’s oftentimes the point. Most children who have a pattern of whining have learned that enough crying, pleading, or begging will eventually get them what they want. You say no, they whine, you don’t want to listen to it anymore so you give in, and they stop whining. It’s a vicious cycle, and for some kids, it’s a knee-jerk response to any kind of uncomfortable situation.
Sometimes, after suggesting to your child that they deal with their feelings in a way other than whining, the best thing you can do is ignore.
Think of it as a boundary: I won’t engage with my child if they are whining. When you clearly set this boundary, your child will know that if they want to talk with mom or dad, they can’t whine. It’s a small way to invite them to be responsible with their feelings (and nix the whining).
Remember not to ignore your child until you’ve first validated their feelings and invited them to choose a different response.
If you typically cave to their pleas, suddenly ignoring your child will be difficult for them to understand. Make it clear that whining is no longer allowed and you will ignore them if they whine. You can say something like, “I see that you’re upset, and I want to talk about it with you, but I’m not going to talk with you until you choose to stop whining,” or “Mommy will only talk with you if you stop crying and use your words to tell me how you feel.” Once you’ve made yourself clear, ignore the whining.
Remember: a boundary will communicate to your child that they are capable of engaging with you in a drama-free way.
Show Them a Different Way
If your child gets a bad grade, doesn’t get to play with their friends, or receives a consequence for bad behavior, feeling sad, angry, or frustrated is a totally appropriate reaction. These emotions are normal responses to uncomfortable situations.
Validate your child’s feelings. Help them identify their emotions and learn ways to manage them.
Your child will be tempted to respond to their sadness, anger, or frustration in inappropriate ways such as whining. They’re emotionally immature and are just starting to learn how to manage their emotions in appropriate ways. Even adults often respond to uncomfortable situations by whining, although we know the behavior is ineffective and irresponsible.
Show your children a better way to respond by inviting them to be responsible.
When you see them struggling with how to deal with their emotions, pause and gently talk through their feelings with them. Help them determine what they can do to take responsibility in the situation.
Remember to be mindful of your own behavior.
Do you complain when things don’t go your way? Do you get upset and take it out on someone else when your expectations aren’t met? While we don’t whine the same way kids do, we still respond inappropriately to our emotions at times. Your kids aren’t going to come up with responsible, appropriate responses on their own. They need to see emotional responsibility in action; they need to see it from you.
Model the behavior you want your children to copy—and when you don’t, be sure to let them know that you’ve messed up.
Give Your Child (Meaningful) Attention
Oftentimes, whining is a child’s attempt to get our attention. Unfortunately, when this tactic works, it’s not positive, meaningful attention they receive. Instead, bad behavior is reinforced and while the child does have an interaction with the parent, it’s usually a negative one.
Recognize your child’s pleas for attention—whether emotionally intelligent or not—and look for ways you can give them a little more quality one-on-one time.
While you may be focused on fixing bad behavior, don’t forget to be on the lookout for good behavior, too. Praise your child often when they make responsible choices.
Be sure they know that positive outcomes result from managing and responding well to their emotions.
With all these tips in mind, remember that your child is learning. Don’t expect their behavior to change easily and quickly—most likely it won’t. Every child is different and breaking the habit of whining will be harder with some than it will be with others. If whining has become a habit for your little one, you may have to grit your teeth and bear it for a while. As uncomfortable and frustrating as it may be, practice patience while helping your child learn more appropriate emotional skills.
Be consistent in your response and, over time, your child will stop whining and develop more responsible ways to respond to their emotions—a true sign of emotional intelligence!