How to Cope with a Child Who Whines

If there is one behavior that most parents, caregivers and teachers would readily admit drives them around the bend it’s whining. The good news is there are some simple ways to help your child to avoid whining. 

Although kids of any age can go through periods of whining, it’s most common with two and three year olds, and for understandable reasons. According to child psychotherapist, Janet Morrison, whining seems to increase during those times in a child’s life when they feel frustrated with themselves. “It tends to come in periods of a child’s development when they’re a little overwhelmed, when the child is feeling that she’s not coping very well, and when the child has an expectation of failure or disappointment,” explains Morrison. “The child who expects things to go well tends to holler or shout. The child who feels a little defeated or overwhelmed tends to whine.”

Penny Shore, creator of the Parent Smart books series adds that “whining is all about attention.”Your child is whining because they want you. They’re tired, they’re cranky, and they need your attention. Children have a unique way of getting our attention and that’s their cue and signal, and I think we can’t ignore it. They need you to be the investigator, the scientist; what’s wrong with my child? Why are they whining is the essential question.”

And although, as Shore suggests, we need to be patient and investigate why our child is whining, most parents would agree that whining can make you feel a little like a failure. As Janet Morrison explains, “whining always connotes a kind of reproach. It’s saying you’ve failed me and it really is very overwhelming to parents because it evokes their own feelings of helplessness and failure”.

Nancy Samalin author of “Loving Without Spoiling believes that the best way to overcome whining is by teaching our children how to ask for something appropriately. She suggests that during a calm time, when a child isn’t hungry or tired, playfully ask them to “‘say something to me in your whine voice’, and they’ll do it great. Then you say ‘now do you know how to ask me for something in your regular voice?’ and you role-play with them”, suggests Samalin. “Then the next time they whine you can say ‘hey, can you remember how to say that in your regular voice?’”

Morrison agrees that the best ways to handle whining is in a simple and straightforward manner. “Walk away, take a deep breath and tell yourself this is not my fault,” says Morrison. “Then come back to say as positively and cheerfully as you can, I want to help you but please stop whining and ask me in a big girl’s or big boy’s voice for what it is that you want.”

Whining doesn’t have to develop into a habit or personality trait. Instead, with a little guidance and encouragement, whining can be a short-lived cycle in a child’s development.


Adapted from The Parent Report Radio Show. Any advice or information contained herein should never be a substitute for professional and/or medical advice, diagnosis and treatment. For more information please review Terms of Service.

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