9 Positive Parenting Strategies to Nix the Whining for Good
“But I waaaaaaaaaaant it.”
There are few things more irritating than whining: That high-pitched pleading is like nails on a chalkboard—not only for Mom and Dad, but for everyone else, too.
Why Do Kids Whine?
Your child isn’t trying to make you crazy. In fact, there are developmental reasons for whining, which can start to show up around age two or three. Around that age, children’s language acquisition is exploding, but they’re also beginning to realize they can exert control over their world—and yours.
Whining, your child quickly learns, can be a highly effective way to express how they feel, to tell you what they want (or don’t), and to assert their new urge toward independence.
In other words, occasional whining is entirely normal. But when whining becomes a habit, well, it may be time to work on a solution before your (very understandable) irritation starts to really simmer.
The good news is that you can do something about habitual whining because often, parents have been part of the problem in the first place. In an effort to end the whining or avoid a conflict, some parents either repeatedly give into it or look the other way. The result can be a child who becomes even whinier over time.
Don’t worry! There’s time to course-correct before your emerging whiner drives you nuts. Here are some common whine-inducing situations and strategies that can work.
1. Only Pick the Battles that Count
Is your child whining about what they will or will not wear?
Your winning whining strategy: If they’re safe and relatively warm enough (really, if they’re not warm enough, it’s another fabulous lesson in natural consequences!), let them wear the swimsuit with a tutu and a cape to the store. By letting go of the small stuff, you let your child have their independence.
2. Laugh with Them
Is your child throwing a fit because they don’t want to, say, take a bath (when they most definitely need one)?
Your winning whining strategy: To avoid a power struggle, unleash your inner toddler and make bath time super silly fun. Let’s hop up and down like a kangaroo to the bath! Let’s fill the bath with ALL of the Tupperware and spoons! Let’s make bubble bath beards tonight!
3. Offer Fun Choices
Is your child asserting control by refusing to get in the car?
Your winning whining strategy: Find what really motivates them and use it to your advantage. Do you want to buckle up your teddy bear or your fluffy dog today to go with us? Do you want to get in the station wagon through Mommy’s door or the hatchback? Do you want to race Mommy or Daddy to the car today? The goal is to give your child some control of the situation (while still getting them out the door).
4. Teach Them What “Whiny” Is
At this age, children actually don’t know what whining is or what it sounds like—which is why saying, “Stop whining” rarely works.
Your winning whining strategy: Read books together in different voices and name the vocal qualities: sad, happy, kind…and yes, whiny. You are literally giving your child the emotional skills to understand what “whiny” sounds like. Together, practice comparing whiny to a tone that is kind or respectful. Then, help them practice asking for what they want using their “kind” or “respectful” voice.
5. Let Them Get Upset
Do you so hate to see your child cry that you’d rather just give them the ice cream before dinner?
Your winning whining strategy: Kindly and firmly set your limits, and then let them express their big feelings. When your child is in the throes of a fit, use a kind, calm, non-punitive voice to let them know that you understand they’re upset. If their fits are unsettling to you or your family, help them find another space where they can let it all out. After all, your serenity and peace—and those of your other children, your partner, and your guests—count, too.
6. Cuddle and Connect
At age two or three, children are growing independence, but they actually need you more than ever to feel secure as they begin to explore the world and their place within it.
Your winning whining strategy: Proactively give your child the emotional security they really need. Give them your genuine attention and love a few times a day to let them know they are important, loved, and have a big place in your heart.
7. Be Consistent
Interestingly, some of the most persistent children can also be the whiniest in a kind of relentless pursuit of getting exactly what they want. The challenge is to help them express their persistence more positively.
Your winning whining strategy: Don’t give in. If your child pleads for 10 minutes and then finally asks in a kind voice, giving in at that point is counterproductive if your goal is to curb the whining. (See #4.)
8. Set the Expectations
Whining can be a major trigger for many parents. For your own emotional well-being, it’s okay to create a no-whining zone.
Your winning whining strategy: Kindly, clearly, and perhaps even with a sense of humor, let your children (and even their friends) know that whining is not allowed in your house. You won’t be able to avoid all whining, but if you stay consistent and remind them about the no-whining rule when you hear those sing-songy pleas, you’ll be able to stay calm yourself—which will allow you to be a better parent.
9. Allow “Do-Overs”
When learning something new, we rarely get it right the first time.
Your winning whining strategy: If your child asks for something you think is reasonable but does it in a whining voice, tell them kindly, “I’d like to listen to what you’re saying. Could you try it again and this time match your voice to mine?” Then repeat exactly what they just said in a calm tone of voice. Many times toddlers just need you to model the behavior you’d like to see. Use this interaction as a way to let them practice making requests in a different (more well-received) tone of voice. This behavior is especially reinforced if the answer to their newly stated request can be yes.
While positive-parenting strategies require a little extra effort, creativity, and patience on your part, they generally get the job done well. Pick one or two strategies from the list above, use them consistently (or as much as you can remember to), and you’re sure to get at least a few more requests in a regular voice and with a smile to boot.