Why Do Kids Whine? 3 Steps to Make it Stop

Boy sticking out tongue
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 usthey whine to get our attention.

Kids whine to get our attention

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 seek it in negative ways.

While they prefer our positive attention, negative attention (corrections, reprimands, etc.) will suffice because it still provides a deposit of attention in their buckets.

So cue up the whining and badgering and negotiating and complaining to get your attention—over and over again—because it’s the next best thing to getting the positive attention they really want.

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—and now they know they can do this 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 removing the payoff—attention and maybe the reward of getting what they’re whining for—you’ll cut back dramatically on this annoying misbehavior.

First, stop giving in to the whining. 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.

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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 which will be 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, can you repeat back to me 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.

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 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 improving their behavior.

Note: For Positive Parenting Solutions Members, refer to Session 1 to learn the secrets to easily implement Mind, Body and Soul Time into your already-too-busy day! Also see the advanced module, The Busy Parent’s Guide to Mind, Body and Soul Time.


Final Thoughts

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!

About the Author

Amy McCready
Nationally recognized parenting expert Amy McCready is the Founder of Positive Parenting Solutions and the best selling author of The “Me, Me, Me” Epidemic - A Step-by-Step Guide to Raising Capable, Grateful Kids in an Over-Entitled World and If I Have to Tell You One More Time…The Revolutionary Program That Gets Your Kids to Listen Without Nagging, Reminding or Yelling. As a “recovering yeller” and a Certified Positive Discipline Instructor, Amy is a champion of positive parenting techniques for happier families and well-behaved kids. Amy is a TODAY Show contributor and has been featured on CBS This Morning, CNN, Fox & Friends, MSNBC, Rachael Ray, Steve Harvey & others. In her most important role, she is the proud mom of two amazing young men.