Why Kids Whine

Why Kids Whine

Picture of Meri Wallace
Meri Wallace

Meri Wallace, LCSW, a parenting expert and child and family therapist for over thirty years, grew up in Coney Island, Brooklyn. Meri completed her Masters degree in Social Work at NYU, specializing in child development. Meri writes a blog for “Psychology Today”, and is the author of “Birth Order Blues” (Henry Holt and Co.) and “Keys to Parenting Your Four Year Old” (Barron's Educational Series.) She has been a columnist for Sesame Street Parents, New York Family Magazine,and Brooklyn Parent and has been a consultant to Children’s Television Workshop. She is frequently interviewed by national publications including Newsweek, Cosmopolitan, and Parents Magazine.

Tips for how to resolve a child’s whining

KEY POINTS

  • Older children often regress to earlier behaviors when they feel upset or want something badly.
  • Parents might be encouraging whining by establishing a pattern of granting a child their wish whenever the child whines.
  • Some tips to resolve a child’s whining include suggesting a positive resolution and positively reinforcing a desired behavior.

“Stop whining!” Parents will plead with their kids. It’s hard to hear your child drone on and on, “I want some ice cream,” when you’re walking down the street, or “He hit me” from the backseat of the car.

Parents can get very irritated, especially if their kids are older. They may conclude: She’s acting babyish and should be expressing herself in a more grown-up way. Parents often feel they are being manipulated and worry that the child is spoiled. If their parents got very angry when they whined as a child, a parent might react similarly.

Where exactly does whining come from? Babies will cry when they’re hungry, or they need a diaper change. They haven’t developed the ability to express themselves in words. By two, they are already stringing words together and making sentences. Now whining begins in full force. It’s a combination of crying and saying. I want, I need, I’m upset. Next, a process of learning how to express his complex emotions in a more mature way begins. Keep in mind that older children often regress to earlier behaviors when they feel upset or want something very badly, so they can whine too.

Parents can indeed encourage whining by establishing a pattern of granting a child her wish whenever she whines. Often parents do it to shut the whining down or because they cannot stand to say no to their child. To the parent, it feels like he’s hurting the child. And so the parent will give her the remote, and the pattern becomes set in stone.

Luckily, there are ways that you can help the whining wane.

Acceptance: Parents need to accept that it’s normal and natural for kids to whine. It’s an alternative to crying. In a way, it’s more advanced than just crying because he is using words. When a child whines, it’s best to accept that he’s upset and needs your help. If you ridicule him or try to shut him down, he will feel it is unacceptable to express his emotions.

Acknowledge the child’s feelings: You might say, “I can see that you’re upset. You really want those markers.” Once you acknowledge the emotions, she may be able to talk more calmly. Her request has been noted.

Encourage a calmer conversation: You can say, “Can you try to use your regular voice? I want to understand you and help you.”

Give him logical explanations: If you cannot grant your child his wish, give him a logical explanation. For instance, “I can’t buy you a new tennis racket today. I just bought you a team jacket.” When you give your child an explanation that makes sense, he will be more accepting of your refusal. He will know it’s not an arbitrary denial.

Suggest a positive resolution: When you’re negotiating in the middle of a store, say, “Let’s put the tennis racket on your wish list,” and key it into your cell phone. She will feel you’re taking her seriously and will trust that you may fulfill her wish in the future. The more you follow through when you can, the more she will trust you.

Positive reinforcement: When he asks you for something without whining, always commend him. Tell him. “I like the way you’re asking me.” Over time, his verbal abilities, positive experiences, and wish to please you will help him express himself without whining.