3 things to do when your child is whining

The time after childcare and before dinner is ‘whine-central’ at my house. Just last night my little ‘Pumpkin’ jumped from one demand to another, and when I wouldn’t or couldn’t comply (it makes no difference to kids, does it?), she brought out the big gun: whining. Her voice is not just high-pitched, but she will test out her entire vocal range and is almost impossible to understand. We’ve learned quickly that there is the ticking time bomb that goes along with her whining: a tantrum can that can explode in just 2.5 minutes!

In my I’m-living-on-3-hours-of-sleep-and-I-just-need-everyone-to-be-quiet moments, I have given in, “Yes, here child, here is the purple cup. Fine, have more raisins.” Sometimes that works and the whining stops because she got what she wanted. It doesn’t take a brain surgeon or a child psychologist to figure out that I’ve just reinforced that if at first you don’t succeed, just whine!

I now have a plan for dealing with whining: as with everything else when raising a child, consistency is the secret. And I’ve made sure my hubby and I are on the same page.

3 things to do when your child is whining:

  1. Ask yourself why the whining is happening.

Be a detective and try to understand your child’s point of view. All behaviour has meaning. Often kids will whine when they are tired, hungry, sad, lonely, etc.

  1. Show & Tell them what to do.

Get down to your child’s level and make eye contact. Keep your own tone of voice and facial expression pleasant. “Pumpkin, use your nice voice. Say ‘Mommy, can I please have the purple cup?’” Think of it as role-modelling what you want your child to do. Be mindful of this when interacting with other people as children learn what they see.

  1. Praise when they ask nicely.

“That was nice asking, thank you.” And now you can tell them your answer.

Mother talking to young child

If you think the whining in step one is for a minor thing, like for a snack or a certain colour of cup, you can ignore the whine. But if you realize your child is sad, afraid or upset and is needing attention, affection or reassurance from you, focus on providing that. You may find that there is a pattern to the whine. For example, with Pumpkin’s whining after childcare, I know she’s hungry and she misses me. If I give her a small snack and some brief quality time before making dinner, she’s much more likely to remember to use her nice voice.

The first time we tried this new plan, Pumpkin had a temper tantrum, but we remained consistent and eventually she calmed down. She refused to try asking nicely for her beloved purple cup so she never got it. But the next day, when the whining started up again over her cup, we followed the steps and <gasp> it worked!

So the next time your child whines, take a deep breath and resist the urge to get pulled in by your child’s emotions. Look carefully at the Why, be gentle with the Show & Tell and loving with the Praise. Above all, remember that with your guidance and acceptance, this too shall pass.

Let’s hear from you!

Give us a shout at HaltonParents if you’re looking for more handy tips to deal with whining and other challenging behaviours.

Is there a challenging behaviour you would like to see us blog about? Let us know! There are many ways to connect with us:

For parenting information or to speak with a Public Health Nurse (every Monday to Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.) simply dial 311 or 905-825-6000.

About Andrea Scott RN

I’m a public health nurse with the HaltonParents team – you’ll find me blogging, tweeting and answering emails. I’ve been working for the Halton Region Health Department since 2006 and my focus has been on supporting parents with babies and little kids. I have two little ones myself, “Pumpkin” and “Monkey” who give me plenty to blog about! :)
This entry was posted in Parenting, preschoolers, School-aged Children, Toddlers, Tweens and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to 3 things to do when your child is whining

  1. Christa says:

    My three year old has started lying. I understand most of the time why she does it, bored, or wants attention, or doesn’t want to get in trouble. For example, she will lie about having to go to the bathroom if she doesn’t want to eat dinner, or if we are out, I believe just for the change of pace or alone time with mommy or daddy. She will also lie if we ask her about something that she did that she wasn’t supposed to. We have tried to explain to her why it is important not to lie, but not sure what else to do. Also important to note, she has a new brother who is 5 months old, I have noticed that she was fine with him at first, but the more he has been awake and interactive with everyone, the more jealous she has become, I believe that her new brother is playing a role in this need for attention. To combat this, I have made sure that everyday she gets my full attention and time for an activity, like painting, or puzzles, or playing with stickers, or going to the park. Any suggestions on how to deal with the lying? Thank you.

    • Andrea Scott RN says:

      Hi Christa,

      Thanks for your comment. It sounds like you are already doing a fantastic job of trying to be a “detective” and figure out the underlying cause of your daughter’s behaviour. Spending quality time with her, as you said, is a great way to help her meet her needs and hopefully prevent behavioural issues. You might find it helpful to know that most kids, at the age of three, don’t really understand the concept of lying as a way to be manipulative or deceitful. Sometimes what they say is more of a “fantasy” or for your daughter, like you said, a way to get your one-on-one attention by asking to go to the bathroom. In these instances, it might be better to focus on her during the moment, for example, when having dinner, eat with her and include her in family conversation. When out and about, ask her to help look for things and comment with her on the things you see at the store. When she asks to go to the washroom, bring her to the washroom without comment and then move along if she says she doesn’t need to go after all. As for lying to get out of trouble, try to avoid putting her in a position to denying it. For example, you can say something non-blaming, like “look at this big mess! I wonder how it got here? I would really like it if you could help me clean it up.”

      Personally, I remember my daughter went through some challenging behaviours when my son was an older baby, and the best advice I can give you is to notice and praise her when she is behaving well and, like I said in the post, “with your guidance and acceptance, this too shall pass.”

      Here is another fantastic resource, a “Top 10 Parenting Tips” that I think you might like: http://www.triplepontario.ca/en/about_triple_p/Parenting_Quick_Tips.aspx

      If you live in Halton Region, please feel free to dial 311 to talk with one of us, we are available Monday-Friday, 8:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. 🙂

      Hope this helps,
      Andrea Scott RN

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