Whining 101: How to Handle It
Being the mom of two boys, I’ve heard my share of whining. “I don’t want to eat vegetables with my dinner!” whines my 7-year-old son, Ethan. “I want you to buy me that toy!” whines my 3-year-old son, Brandon. “Tough! Deal with it!” I typically shout exasperatedly.
I know they’re just giving me a hard time to get my attention and generate any kind of response from me. They think that if they keep at it long enough, my “no” might magically transform into a “yes.” Sometimes, whining is the only way kids (especially little ones like my preschooler) know how to express themselves, especially when they’re hungry, tired or cranky.
Still, you shouldn’t let your kids’ whining dictate your life. Here are some tips on handling that dreaded whining:
Respond immediately. Some kids, especially young ones, resort to whining when they’ve tried unsuccessfully to get your attention. That’s why they often whine when you’re chatting on the phone with a friend or trying to focus on following a complicated recipe. If you’re in the middle of a conversation, acknowledge her request and let her know you’ll be with her shortly. You can say, “I know you want me to help you with the game. If you wait two minutes, I’ll be able to help you.” Then, do your best to follow through on your promise. (And understand that preschoolers have little patience to wait.)
Plan accordingly. Kids often get whiny when it’s close to mealtime or bedtime. So, if you take your hungry child to the grocery story before dinner, he’s bound to beg for a chocolate chip cookie. Feed him before you go or pack some healthy snacks he can munch on as you shop.
Pour on the praise. Face it, you say “That’s not a nice voice” more often than you proclaim “What a great voice you’re using.” The next time that your daughter asks for something politely tell her “My ears love that voice.” If she doesn’t shout her request, respond with “Thanks for using your normal voice.” Give praise when praise is due to help combat whining.
Keep your cool. Stay calm no matter what. Don’t yell “Stop that whining!” If you react by blowing up or giving in, your child will only revel in the attention, even when it’s negative. And you don’t want him to think that whining is the fast track to getting what he wants.
Record them. Video or audio record him whining. Then, do the same when he’s speaking in a normal voice. Play both recordings back to him (when he’s in a good mood). Let him hear what he sounds like when he uses his “whiny” voice compared to his “regular” one. Explain that since whining sounds annoying, it often makes people stop listening. Tell him “Using a whiny voice hurts people’s ears. It makes them think you’re not a big boy.”
Redirect them. Change the subject or distract them with a hug. Say “You’re seeing Grandma and Grandpa tomorrow!” or “Aren’t you excited to go to the zoo on Saturday?”
Refuse to respond. Tell your child that if he whines, you won’t respond. Then, if he does whine, tell him calmly that you’ll only listen to him when he speaks in a nicer (regular) voice. Once he does that, respond to his request with a yes or explain why you’re saying no. You shouldn’t feel obligated to give her what she’s requesting just because she didn’t whine. Show her you appreciate her request. “Thanks for asking so nicely. Yes, you can have a piece of candy” or “Yes, you asked nicely. But, you can’t have candy now as it’s too early in the day. You can have a piece of fruit instead.” Do your best not to cave or give in: The more often kids get what they want after whining, the more likely they are to think it’s an effective form of communication.
Hang in there. Your kids won’t stop whining overnight. Even after you try some new strategies to combat whining, some kids take more time than others to switch their behaviors.