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How to Handle Whining

By Tammy Gold, LCSW, MSW, CEC

Whining can really send even the calmest moms over the edge. So what can you do to support your child, but also remain in control? When your children whine they are telling you they need something. Use these tips on how to handle whining to help them get what they need while also regaining your sanity!

Be Aware of Age

If you are trying to help your child stop whining, you need to be aware of what your child can comprehend and understand. For example, you cannot say to a one and a half year old, “Honey, please stop whining because it is really starting to make my blood pressure rise!” A child at that age does not understand what you are saying and probably will whine more! Communicate on a level your child can understand. This is an important tactic when learning how to handle whining.

Arm Children with Tools

Very young children may whine because they do not have other ways to express themselves. Try to arm them with certain words. If they are whining for “mom,” but they really just need help getting a toy, say “Do you need some help getting the toy?” Repeat what your child is really trying to say and arm him/her with the proper tools and words to express his/her needs in the best manner possible. Remember that whining can be age appropriate and will disappear when the child is better able to express him/herself.

Follow Through on What You Say

For children of any age, it is of paramount importance to always follow through. If you say “no more cookies,” but then always give in, your children will know what to expect and keep whining to get their intended end result. Say what you mean – and mean what you say. When your children really understand that you are not going to budge, they will stop even trying.

Ignore the Child’s Whining if Old Enough

Again, if your child is of the appropriate age to really comprehend you, explain that you are going to ignore all whining. Sometimes children whine because they need attention. Giving children more attention when they whine will only serve to fuel the fire. Say instead, “When you whine, I am not going to listen to you or pay attention to you until you can speak properly.” Then stick to what you say and reward your children by immediately attending to their requests when the whining stops.

Model the Right Way

Model the right way to ask for things or express yourself to your children. It is very important to encourage your children to express their feelings and emotions. So, show your children, through your behavior, the right way to express their feelings and emotions by learning from your example. Remember, if your children see you whining, it will be harder for them to understand why they are not able to get away with doing the same thing. This is a big point on how to handle whining. I tell moms to say “say it without singing” and then model whiny sing/song voice and then use the correct voice after so the child can see the difference.

Reinforce & Praise

Praise and reinforce your children on a daily basis when they vocalize their needs and wants in a good way. When your children uses “please” or “thank you,” reinforce them with praise by attending and engaging with them immediately. Also, remember to express that you appreciate their listening to you and following your directions.

Use Charts & Rewards

If whining is really becoming a problem for older children, try using behavioral modification charts and rewards. You can mark the days that the child remains “whine free” with a small reward. On the flip side, when the child has a “whiney moment” take away the intended reward for that day or week.

About the Author

Tammy Gold, LCSW, MSW, CEC, is author of Secrets of the Nanny Whisperer: A Practical Guide for Finding and Achieving the Gold Standard of Care for Your Child (Perigee, January 6, 2015). Founder of Gold Parent Coaching, which specializes in parent coaching, therapy, nanny-family matching, training and mediation, she has appeared in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and People, and is a frequent guest on TV's Good Morning America and Today.

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