Why Do Kids Whine? 3 Steps to Make it Stop
You said “no” to brownies for breakfast, a new puppy and your 15-year-old’s request to spend the weekend at a beach house with friends.
And each time, just like clockwork, the whining begins.
From toddlers to teens, all children know how to argue with your decision in their best nails-on-a-chalkboard voice.
You’ve tried everything from time-outs to earplugs, but the whining won’t end. Don’t worry–you’re not alone. Parents worldwide fall victim to their child’s whining daily, but this doesn’t mean you can’t stop it.
By learning why your kids whine, you can discover how to put an end to it for good.
Why Do Kids Whine?
Because it works! (For your kids, that is.)
When your kids whine and negotiate, they secure a big chunk of your attention.
Positive Parenting is based on Adlerian Psychology which asserts all humans are hard-wired with two basic emotional needs – belonging and significance. One of the crucial ways parents can meet a child’s need for belonging is to give kids sufficient amounts of attention.
Kids don’t whine to intentionally irritate us—they whine because they haven’t learned a positive, productive way to get our attention or have their needs met.
Let’s face it, parents are the busiest creatures on the planet and there are about a billion things competing for our time and attention. But when kids aren’t getting as much positive attention as they need from us, they’ll experiment with different ways to get our attention–whining, helplessness, tantrums…you get the idea.
And of course, when kids whine, we typically respond with a correction or a reprimand — not exactly the positive attention they were looking for – but it worked to get our attention.
The truth is, children only continue behaviors that work for them.
When kids whine and parents give in, kids realize that whining gets them what they want–the attention they crave and maybe even that candy bar in the grocery checkout line.
But giving in to demands–like one more television show or another scoop of ice cream–isn’t the only way we reward our kids’ whining. Just responding, even if it’s to reprimand them, gives a child payoff. Picking up the child or responding with an annoyed remark (“Enough! Stop whining!”) still gives the child attention–even though it wasn’t the positive attention she really wanted–and now she’ll be more likely to whine again and again to get the same result.
How Can You Make the Whining Stop?
Now that you know why kids whine, you can make it stop–before your ears fall off. Here are 3 steps you can start using today to curb the whining in your home:
1. Make it NOT Work
Remember the main reason why your kids whine? It works! By not giving in to whatever they’re whining for–you’ll cut back dramatically on this annoying misbehavior.
Whether you’re in the grocery store or at the dinner table, say “no,” and stick to it. If a tantrum happens, calmly let it happen in a safe place (like the car)–and your child will soon learn that whining, and even a tantrum, won’t get him what he wants. You should still help your child deal with his big feelings of disappointment, but you’re not caving into the demand.
2. Pay No (Negative) Attention
By refusing to give attention to the whining, you’ll remove a big part of the payoff. Here’s a simple 3-step training process to make it work:
Step 1: Set the Expectation
In a calm moment, tell your kids:
“You’re growing up so much! You’re big enough now to ask for what you’d like in a normal voice, without whining, AND be okay if you don’t get it. If you ask me something in a whiny voice, I will put my hands over my ears as a gentle reminder to use your regular voice. Then, you can try again with your normal voice, and I’ll be happy to talk about anything that’s on your mind.”
NOTE: You may have to do some role-playing about the difference between a normal voice and a whiny voice.
Step 2: Reveal How You Will Respond
“If you continue to use your whiny voice, I will not respond. Instead, I’ll just go about my business until you want to talk in your normal voice, and then I’ll be happy to listen.”
Step 3: Confirm Understanding
“Just so we’re on the same page, and we don’t have any surprises, let’s practice how we’ll talk to each other and what I will do if you decide to use your whiny voice?”
Okay, you’ve laid the groundwork. But, once you’ve made this bed, my friend, you MUST lie in it (don’t worry, it’ll be really relaxing before you know it).
Follow through EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. your children start to whine. Stay calm and walk away – even a negative non-verbal reaction to whining can be a payoff. When your child uses her normal voice, be sure to respond RIGHT AWAY, calmly and pleasantly.
We all know behaviors don’t develop overnight, so curbing the whining in your home can take days and even weeks to remediate. However, with a little patience, practice, and consistency, you’ll help your child kick this habit in no time.
3. Provide Proactive POSITIVE Attention
For these steps to work, you must also provide plenty of positive attention to meet your child’s need for emotional connection.
Each parent should shoot for 10 minutes of quality time every day with each child. You can play their favorite card game, shoot hoops in the driveway, or do whatever they love to do! During the special one-on-one time, ignore the email notification. Don’t respond to the text. Hold off on the dinner prep.
When you fill your child’s attention basket positively and proactively, your kids will become more cooperative and less likely to resort to whining as a way to gain your attention.
Life is busy for everyone, and finding extra time in the day may be daunting at first, but think of this as an investment in your relationship with your children and in helping them learn more positive and effective ways to communicate their needs.
Note: For Positive Parenting Solutions Members, refer to STEP 1 to learn the secrets to easily implement MIND, BODY AND SOUL TIME® togetherness into your already-too-busy day! Also see the Ultimate Survival Guide, MBST: Your Secret Weapon for Better Behavior.
With these strategies in place, you’ll keep the whining to a minimum. But the truth is, other frustrating behaviors might pop up in its place.
I wish I could help you tackle every frustrating behavior in this one article, but sadly, there is no silver bullet to parenting! Correcting misbehavior and raising respectful, independent, capable kids requires an intentional process and set of tools.
If you’re struggling with other behavior challenges like sibling fighting, backtalk, homework issues, technology battles, mealtime or morning chaos, I’d love to walk you through our step-by-step road map for parenting toddlers to teens.
Thousands of families have experienced life-changing results, and I’d be honored to help your family enjoy this peaceful transformation, too!
If you’re not quite ready to jump in, at least join me for a FREE ONLINE CLASS.
I’ll teach you how to get your kids to listen without nagging, reminding, or yelling, and you’ll start feeling relief within days!
As always, happy parenting! You’ve got this!
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