What can I do about my child’s whining?

Hearing a child whine is very annoying. Young children often whine when they’re tired, hungry, angry, or frustrated, and once they start, it’s difficult to stop them. When parents ignore their whining child, he usually just continues until they finally speak to him. And even those parents who try to be patient or who believe its best not to focus on a whining child often end up shouting, “Stop whining!” One mother constantly scolded her four-year-old, “What did I tell you about whining? Use a grown-up voice!”

There are no easy ways to keep your child from whining. You can try redirecting his attention, although your attempts at distraction may be unsuccessful. You also can try letting him know, without attacking him, that you’re unhappy with his tone. When you say, “You’re whining!” or, “Stop whining!” you imply blame. Instead, try expressing your feelings in a less negative way, without using the word “whining” at all. Say, “When you ask me in that way, I don’t want to do anything for you,” or “You’ll have to ask me in another way.”

Sometimes, particularly if your child is three or younger, you won’t be able to understand what he says when he whines. You can tell him, “You’ll have to ask me in a voice I can understand,” or, “When you talk to me that way, I don’t feel like listening to you. Can you find another way to tell me what you want?” You may not be able to stop a three-year-old’s whining until you discover what’s causing it. Sometimes a child with an older sibling whines because he feels he can’t compete with his brother or sister. He turns to whining and baby-talk in order to be noticed and to take on the qualities of a baby, who, he feels, couldn’t be expected to act like the older sibling.

By the time your child is five, he should be better able to express himself and understand the limits you place on his whining. If he whines continuously despite your efforts, he may believe whining is the best way to get what he wants. You may need to listen to him more and give him more time and attention.

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