Three Keys to Transforming Whining

Photo by Suzette Hibble

Oh boy, my daughter was sick with a week-long stomach flu, and as a result, whining has emerged. Here we go on the whining toddler ride! I find whining to be one of the most annoying and challenging things young children do to express their needs. Tantrums are easier for me than whining. That’s probably because I’ve done so much whining myself! In fact, if I’m really honest, I STILL whine when I’m exceptionally tired, sick, or otherwise infirmed.

Despite my own whining, I do know how to help a child stop whining! There are three keys to transforming whining. The first is changing the way we perceive the whiner. When we have thoughts like, “She is just doing this to manipulate me,” or “He ALWAYS does this in front of my friends, he must be trying to embarrass me,” we behave toward our children as if our thoughts are true.

The trick is to transform our thoughts to create a situation in which we have space and empathy for the smaller people in our lives, rather than resentment toward them. When we blame children for our own uncomfortable feelings, no one wins. However, when we can learn to identify the internal root causes of our own feelings, we no longer need to pin the blame on a whining child. Instead we can realize, “I’m feeling exhausted right now and THAT is why I’m so annoyed. My child is only trying to meet her needs and she’s doing her best to communicate with me.”

The second key is to offer your child some heartfelt empathy. Empathy is like your parenting super-power! You’ll be shocked at how a little bit of true empathy can completely change the situation and the behavior and affect of your child.

Sometimes all it takes is a simple statement like, “Huh, it seems like you’re feeling sad right now, is that true?” At other times it might just be eye contact and a hug. And at still other times you might speak for your child about his emotions, “You’re feeling really mad about that! Grrrr! That is NOT okay with you, is it?” It can even be something as simple as joining your child in her tirade of “No, no, no, no, no, no!” The real key here is to FEEL empathy for your child. If you’re just using empathy as a way to get a child to stop whining, they will sense that and it won’t work.

The third key is to model the tone of voice and wording that we’d most like to hear from our kids. “Wow sweetie, I can tell you’re really upset and frustrated right now, but when you talk in a whiney voice, it bothers me and then I don’t want to help you. So let’s figure out a way you can ask that I WILL want to help. How about, ‘Mommy, may I please have a snack?’ and then I’ll say, ‘Sure!’ Want to try it right now?”

By sharing my own feelings and working with her to help her successfully argue her point, she knows that I’m on her side and I really do want to help. And, by inviting her to try a new strategy right then, I’m offering her an opportunity to be successful. However, watch out for a desire to push a child to share or try something they’re not interested in. If my daughter says no, I simply speak both sides of the conversation for her and then give her the snack she was whining for. It isn’t important to me that she actually repeat what I’ve said…yet. When she’s closer to five years old, I will definitely require that she ask in a more palatable tone of voice. But for now (she’s not even two years old yet) I’m just laying the foundation and showing her what works for me.

Depending on how you’ve communicated with your child about whining in the past, you may have some clean-up to do or some repetition to make your way through before your child will be willing to try “the new way.”

I use modeling for all sorts of things with my daughter, but as a preschool teacher I found it so effective at transforming whining that it’s my #1 favorite strategy for turning a whine into a respectful request.

How do you deal with whining at your house? I would love to add your strategies to my arsenal! Please share a story or strategy in the comments below. Thanks!

And have a wonderful week, Shelly


my girls whine a lot, I try to explain that I don't understand what they want if they whine, to say it correctly then I'll understand and could help.  But I'm not consistant, often I just respond to their needs to stop the whining.  But i wonder if whining is not a normal step in between crying and proper language acquisition?