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How to Handle a Whiny Child

Reviewed by Poonam Sachdev on April 28, 2022

You know whining when you hear it. Parents may internally cringe as soon as they hear their child squeal, but whining isn’t just about screaming and crying. 

Whininess in children is normal and sometimes cannot be avoided. It’s their way of communicating new feelings. You can’t prevent all whining, but you can develop tools with your child to make whiny episodes manageable.

Why Do Kids Whine?

Self-expression. When an adult is upset, they say, “I’m upset.” They can describe their feelings, talk about why they’re upset, and sometimes rationally process what they’re experiencing.  

Kids can’t do that. When they’re upset, frustrated, or sad, they can’t describe it to their parents. Instead, they whine. 

Kids who are more sensitive may whine more. They experience their emotions more strongly and can’t express themselves in any way besides whining. At young ages, even the smallest disappointments can cause a child to break down. 

Expressing needs. You may notice your child whining at certain times, such as before lunchtime or in the afternoon when it’s almost nap time. This is their way of responding when they’re hungry or tired.

Whining doesn’t always mean they’re hungry or tired, though. They may whine in response to stress. Even most adults struggle to manage stress, so it’s understandable that your child responds to unfamiliar stress by whining.

Attention. What do you do when your child whines? You probably talk to them, ask them why they're whining, or hold them. Your child learns from this routine.

Your child wants your attention more than anything else. Even if they are whining about a cookie they want, your attention may be the most important thing.  

Your child learns that you give them attention when they whine. They pick up on this response and learn to use it. When they want something, they know that they can whine to get it. 

How to Get Kids to Stop Whining

There’s no magic word to stop whining. There are ways to help manage a whiny episode, but it’s more important to prepare yourself and your child for triggering incidents.

Observe their whiny episodes. Start keeping track of when and where your child whines. You may notice trends that you would otherwise miss while you’re trying to manage their whining.

You may notice that they whine regularly around mealtime, bedtime, or playtime. Keeping track can help you determine why your child is whining. 

Be prepared. You can only prepare if you know what to prepare for. Once you’ve figured out the typical triggers for your child’s whining, come up with ways to sidestep an episode.

If your child tends to whine before mealtime, keep some healthy snacks ready to satiate them until their meal. If they whine when they get dressed for the day, add some music or turn the activity into a game.

A whiny place. If nothing you do seems to work, make sure your child has a place where they can whine. Send them to their room or another private area until they stop whining. Make sure to have a consistent whiny place so your child understands the expectations. 

A whiny place serves two functions. The first separates you from the situation and gives you a breather. The second function puts the agency on your child: You can leave the whiny place when you stop whining.

A whiny place can seem like a punishment. That’s why discussing the expectations of the whiny place with your child is necessary. The whiny place is so they can whine safely until they’re ready to speak calmly. 

Model good behavior. Kids are like sponges. If you don’t use your words to express yourself, your child will struggle to do so.

Be mindful of your own responses. If you tend to squeal, yell, or scream rather than using your words when you’re upset, you’re showing your child that whining is a proper response. 

Distractions. You may not always know what your child is whining about. They may feel something unrelated to what’s happening around them, and you won’t know how to help. 

Activities, toys, and puzzles can help distract your child when you don’t know why they’re whining. Distractions can separate them from their overwhelming emotions or delay their whining until you’re both in a safe place to process these emotions. 

Discipline Tips for Parents

There are plenty of disciplinary tips, books, and blogs that provide guidance. Not every means of disciplining your child to stop whining will work. Be patient and remember that your child’s whining isn’t malicious. 

Don’t hear whining. Children whine when they get a reaction. It’s difficult, but ignoring their whining can teach them that whining isn’t the way to be heard.

When your child is whiny, explain to them that you can’t hear them when they’re whining. You can only hear them when they talk to you in a calm tone of voice. Similar to a whiny place, it puts the expectations and agency on them, not you.

It’s sometimes okay to ignore your child. They want your attention, so not giving it to them is the best way to prevent whiny behaviors from forming. As long as you know they’re safe, ignore their whining.

Teach them what to say. Children whine because they can’t convey their emotions. Instead of telling them not to whine, teach them what to do instead of whining.

Make them aware that whining doesn’t work. Talk them through how whining makes you feel and what the expectations of communication are. Then, give them words to use to describe their current emotions. 

Talking with your child about their feelings lets them be heard. It validates their feelings without focusing on their whining. 

Praise good habits. Focusing on positive behaviors will reinforce those for your child. Praise them when they ask for something without whining. Praise them when they get your attention without whining.

Reinforcing good habits gives them the tools for replacing their bad habits. With good communication behaviors, they don’t need to whine.

How to Stop Whining

The strongest tool in your toolbox is ignoring a whiny child. Attention reinforces their behavior. Every time you give in to the whining, your child learns that it works. 

Show Sources

SOURCES:

The Center for Parenting Education: “WHIIIIIIIIIINING!!! WHAT IS A PARENT TO DO?”

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: “How to Use Ignoring.”

ChallengingBehavior.org: “How to Help Your Child Stop Whining.”

Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia: “Crying Over Little Things.”

GoodTherapy: “How Can I Get My Child to Stop Whining and Cooperate?”

Parenting Assistance Line: “How To Put An End To Whining.”

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