Whining, an irritating blend of talking and crying, occurs in many children 2-4 years of age and can cause frustration or anger for almost any parent. During this developmental stage children’s language skills are rapidly improving; however, they still do not possess the vocabulary necessary to express themselves when they are tired, cranky, hungry, or frustrated. Also, this is a time of testing the limits of their independence, and whining can make them feel very powerful. Why? Because it gets our attention! Children want a response, positive or negative, and when we give it to them when they whine, they learn that it works! Whining is a learned behavior. Learned behavior can be unlearned.
You can help your child develop new behaviors to replace it.
- Establish a “No Whining Rule”- During a quiet time explain to your child whining will no longer work. If he whines you will no longer respond. Calmly explain you cannot hear what he is saying when he whines and you will listen when he speaks in a normal tone of voice.
- Teach your child the correct way to speak – Children really do want to please their parents but they must be taught! Use role playing or perhaps puppets to teach your child the difference between whining and speaking politely. When your child begins to whine, call his attention to how he is speaking by saying, “You are using your whiny voice and I cannot understand you. Please use the polite voice we practiced and then I can hear ”
- Refuse to get into a power struggle – If your child has become accustomed to getting a response from you when he whines, breaking the habit will take some time.
Generally children do not like change. He will test your resolve time and again. It will take a great deal of self control, patience, and consistency on your part. Don’t cave in. It will only make things worse.
- Give them a place to whine –When your child refuses to obey the “no whine rule” tell them to go to a predetermined place-perhaps their room or another safe area where you can’t hear them whining- and do their whining there. Tell your child he can come out as soon as he stops whining. The child controls the length of stay by controlling the behavior.
- Seek to prevent whining – Don’t take small children to the grocery store, mall, or to visit friends when they are tired, sick or hungry. Keeping children out and about when they do not feel well sets you both up for failure. In addition, children need some of your undivided attention every day. Set aside one on one time and plan ahead to cut down on interruptions. Children who get the attention they need have fewer reasons to whine.
- Watch your words – Pay attention to your own speech patterns. Be careful not to fall into the habit of whining about your spouse, work, etc. in front of your child. Also, try to cut back on phrases such as “In a minute!” or “Not now, I’m busy!” A child whines less when parents respond promptly to his need for attention even if it is only to hold up a finger to say “wait just a second”.
- Praise your child when they don’t whine – Oftentimes parents get so caught up in trying to correct negative behaviors that we forget to notice when our children do the right thing. Train yourself to be aware of your child’s behavior and praise him when he asks you for something in a normal tone of voice. By really listening to him when he properly asks for your attention, the need for whining is eliminated.