Dealing with Whining: The Do's and Don'ts

Chick Moorman's picture

by Chick Moorman

Jason Meredith's two-year-old son whines when he wants more juice. Brenda Kreuger's eight-year-old daughter whines about having to take piano lessons. Connie Gustufson's daughter whines about not getting enough playing time on the softball team. Each parent finds the whining annoying, but is unsure what to do about it. In each case, both parent and child could be helped by the following guidelines:

Do expect your child to whine. It is age-appropriate at two, three, eight, thirteen, nineteen, and every age in between. Children will whine. Count on it.

Don't say, "Stop whining." That doesn't work. Children do not like being ordered around under normal circumstances. When they are whining, they like it even less. One thing worse than a whiner is a whiner that engages you in a power struggle.

Do say, "Madison, that's whining. Whining doesn't work with me. What works with me is to ask in a normal voice using a normal tone at a normal volume. If you do that, sometimes you get what you want. Sometimes you don't, but it's your only hope."

Don't be surprised if you're tested. Your child will check you out to see if you meant what you just said. Show your child that you did mean it.

Don't cave. You may be tested more than once. Once your child realizes that whining doesn't work, he or she will drop the behavior. A child who fights does so because that behavior works for him or her. A child who runs away from fights does so because that works for him or her. A child who gives excuses does so because that behavior works for him or her. Show your child that whining doesn't work with you.

Do announce that your bedroom, the living room, the kitchen, and the car are whine-free zones. Put up whine-free signs if necessary.

Do allow your child to whine. Provide a whining area. The child's bedroom will work well for this purpose. With a legitimate whining area, your child can continue to whine if he or she chooses, and you don't have to hear it.

Don't whine to your spouse about your whining child. You are always modeling. Your child learned whining behavior somewhere. Could it have been from you?

Do use a whine fine for older children. Assess each whiner $1.00 per whine. Keep it in a whine jar or whine bottle. Treat yourself to dinner out or a massage when the whine toll allows.

Do allow children to whine in a whining journal. Inform them that you will listen to all whining if it is written down.

Do praise your child when he or she asks in a normal voice using a normal tone at a normal volume. Don't take children to stores, malls, or relatives' homes after their normal bedtimes. If you do, you're asking for whining. Whining, both theirs and yours, increases with tiredness.

Do use preventative communication before you enter whine zones. Have a talk in the car before you enter the grocery store. Explain the purpose of the trip. Set the ground rules. Make your expectations clear before you enter the whine zone, and you will experience less whining when you get there.

Do inform your child that you are having trouble hearing when he or she whines. Say that your child is hard to understand when he or she chooses that tone. Tell your child that whining hurts your ears and they close down for whine protection.

Do make a copy of this article and carry it around with you. Doing so will help you stay conscious that whining is a behavior you have made a commitment to eliminate.

Don't get discouraged. Whining is learned behavior. Learned behavior can be unlearned, and if you use these strategies consistently, your child will learn new behaviors to replace it.

Chick Moorman has over 35 years experience as an educator and parent. He is the author of Couple-Talk and Parent Talk: How to Talk to Your Child in Language That Builds Self-Esteem and Encourages Responsibility, now available in paperback; Simon and Schuster, a Fireside Original.

Copyright © Chick Moorman. Permission to republish granted to Pregnancy.org, LLC.