Toddler whining is tough for parents to listen to. I have experienced it, as my toddler often asks for something to eat in the morning in her most whiny voice. I mean, it’s not like I hadn’t planned on feeding her breakfast in the first place! But, alas, she will still ask for something to eat in a whiny voice.
Most children do whine at some point. Or beg. Or plead. You name it. And they may continually whine even after you have fulfilled their request or gave them an answer to your question. And it may drive you nuts! According to one article, research suggests that whining peaks between the ages of 2-4 years of age and that people consider whining to be more annoying than screeching sounds, crying, or even nails on a chalkboard kinds of sounds!
However, one surefire way to see continued whining is to give in to the whining behavior. I repeat: DO NOT GIVE IN OR NEGOTIATE! This only reinforces the whining, which means that it will be more likely to happen again in the future.
First of all, before considering why children whine, wait until your child is not whining before teaching them how to ask for something appropriately.
1. As to why children whine, it may be to get your attention. So, as a parent, it’s important to consider the reason behind the whining. Are they hungry or feeling tired? Do they want undivided attention from you? Is your child bored or frustrated? Sometimes we may get very busy and do not notice that our child is getting worked up or frustrated. So, we may need to stop and think about the answers to these questions. Young children, even at 3-4 years of age, are still developing their vocabulary and may not have the ability to describe how they are feeling and then ask for what they need.
2. Research shows that whining gets people’s attention faster when you need something. So, children may be asking for help or resources of some sort, and this is how to get your attention. It distracts us from everything else, so yes, while it’s frustrating, we pay attention to it.
3. Research also shows that children whine more when the family environment is negative or full of conflict. When mothers and fathers were more negative towards their kids, it resulted in more whining and arguing.
4. Children may also whine because they have a sensitive temperament. Some children are born with a tendency to be more anxious or have stronger reactions, so in turn, they may be more likely to whine.
1. Stay calm. As annoying as whining can be, stay calm. If you yell or become impatient, this may reinforce the whining rather than reduce it. Sometimes any attention, even negative attention, is better than no attention at all. Also, if you are calmer, the more likely your child will hear what you have to say.
2. Get on their level and validate their feelings. As mentioned, children may whine because they need some sort of attention. The first thing to do would be to get down on their level and look at them. You may even give some physical contact such as putting your hands on their shoulders. And then validate how they may be feeling. For example, if you think your child is tired due to shopping for a few hours, you can say, “I hear you. You seem tired from shopping.”
For some children, this will end the whining, as they feel as if someone understands them. However, for others, this may not end the whining. In this case, you will want to set a limit or boundary and say that you are not fulfilling the request.
For example, my daughter sometimes whines about wanting ice-cream or popsicles right before dinner. I always tell her that I understand that you want that and I know that it tastes good. However, I say to her, “We need to eat something good for us first.” Most of the time, this helps and she understands. She usually will wait or grab something such as blueberries before dinner. There have been times that she has had a full meltdown, so at this point, I do the best I can do ignore it, but still show her I care (so definitely no giving in!). It’s so tough to not give in to the whining at times, but as mentioned, it just reinforces the behavior.
3. Model how your child can ask for what they need. For example, when my daughter whines about needing something to eat or watching a particular cartoon, I model to her how to say it more appropriately. For example, I speak in a neutral voice and tell her, this is how you ask for a bagel for breakfast: “May I please have a bagel for breakfast?”
4. Help your child understand that whining is hard to listen to. For example, according to one article, parents can say, “I can’t understand you when you are whining.” Then, you can ask your child to ask for what they need in a normal voice.
5. Use distraction. My daughter sometimes whines about wanting a toy when we go to Walmart to pick up groceries. Here, distraction can be a good thing for me to use to stop the whining. I might tell her that we are going to head home and play in the yard with her ball (which is something she loves to do!). Or I point out some other neat thing in the store that may not be a toy.
6. Provide praise when children ask for what they need or want in a normal voice. When my daughter asks for something she wants in a normal voice, I tell her, “Thank you for asking so nicely!” The hope is that the praise will increase the behavior of asking for things in a normal voice.
Yes, toddler whining can certainly be annoying! However, there are some strategies you can do to reduce it. To summarize, start by staying calm, as yelling can reinforce the whining. Then, get down on your child’s level and validate their feelings. Then, as a parent, we can teach our children what to do instead by modeling a more appropriate way to ask for something. Also, use praise when your child does ask for something in a normal voice.
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Hargis, A. (2018). Toddler discipline for every age and stage: Effective strategies to tame tantrums, overcome challenges, and help your child grow. Rockridge Press: Emeryville, CA.
Leyba, E. (2017). 5 great ways to respond to kids’ whining. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/joyful-parenting/201712/5-great-ways-respond-kids-whining
Schaefer, C. (2011). Retrieved from https://www.parents.com/toddlers-preschoolers/development/behavioral/chores-for-kids/