“But I waaaaaaaaant it!” 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 everyone else, too.
There are developmental reasons for whining, which can start to show up around age 2 to 3, when children’s language acquisition is exploding, and they’re beginning to realize they can exert control over their world (and yours). Whining can be a highly effective way for your child to express how he feels, to tell you what he wants (or doesn’t), and to assert his new urge toward independence.
Occasional whining is entirely normal. The problem arises when whining becomes a habit. The good news is that you can do something habitual whining because, er, often we’ve 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 makes you nuts. Here are some common whine-inducing situations and strategies that can work.
1) Only pick the battles that count.
Is she whining about what she will or will not wear?
Your whining strategy: If she’s safe and relatively warm enough (really, if she’s not warm enough, it’s another fabulous lesson in natural consequences!), let her wear the swimsuit with a tutu and a cape to the store. By letting go of the small stuff, you let her have her independence.
2) Laugh with him.
Is he throwing a fit because he doesn’t want to, say, take a bath (when he most definitely needs one)?
Your 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 she asserting her control by refusing to get in the car?
Your whining strategy: Find what really motivates her 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 to the car today or daddy? The goal is to give her some control of the situation (while still getting her out the door).
At this age, children actually don’t know what whining is or sounds like—which is why “Stop whining” rarely works.
Your 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 kind or respectful.
4) Teach him what “whiny” is.
Do you so hate to see your child cry that you’d rather just give him the ice cream before dinner?
Your whining strategy: Kindly and firmly set your limits, and then let him express his big feelings. When your little guy is in the throes of a fit, in a kind, calm, non-punitive voice, let him know that you understand he’s upset. If his fits are unsettling to you or your family, help him find another space where he can let it all out. After all, your serenity and peace—or those of your other children, your spouse, and your guests—count, too.
5) Let him get upset.
At age 2 or 3, 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 whining strategy: Proactively give her the emotional security she really needs. Give her your genuine attention and love a few times a day to let her know she is important, loved, and has a big place in your heart.
6) Cuddle and connect.
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 her express her persistence more positively.
Your whining strategy: Don’t give in. If she 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.)
7) Be consistent.
Whining can be a major trigger for many moms and dads. For your own emotional well-being, it’s okay to create a no-whining zone.
Your 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.
8) Set the expectations.
9) Allow “do-overs.”
When learning something new, it is rare to get it right the first time.
Your whining strategy: If your child asks for something you think is reasonable but does it in a whining voice, tell her kindly, “I’d like to listen to what you’re saying. Could you try it again in your regular voice?” Use this interaction as a way to let her practice making requests in a different (more well-received) tone of voice. This is especially reinforcing if the answer to her newly stated request can be yes.