How to Minimize Whining

Laura Markham's picture

Read More of Dr. Laura's Parenting Tips

Is your child's whining driving you crazy? Here, five parent-proven secrets for minimizing whining:

  1. Meet her basic needs. She may not tantrum as much as now as when she was a toddler, but she will certainly whine if you force her to endure that shopping trip while she's hungry and tired. Whining can become a habit, so you want to avoid situations that provoke it. Why create a negative situation from which she'll learn and repeat?

  2. Be pre-emptive. Make sure that your child gets enough of your positive attention, unprovoked. Pre-empt whining by giving attention BEFORE she gets demanding. Anyone who's had to ask a romantic partner "Do you love me?" knows that attention given after you ask can never really fill the need. The secret is to take the initiative and give attention the child hasn't asked for, often, so she feels your support and connection. And of course it's particularly important to give attention when she shows the first sign of needing your emotional support, before that quick downhill slide.

  3. Give her alternate tools by teaching her how to ask appropriately for something and negotiate with you. Since whining is a function of powerlessness, generally helping your child to feel that she can get what she wants through reasonable measures will carry over into the rest of her life.

    In other words, you don't want her to learn that she gets her way in life by whining or tantrumming, but you do want her to learn that she can get what she wants through managing her emotions, seeing things from the other person's point of view and setting up win/win situations.

    How? "Ok, you want to go to the playground, and I need to stop at the hardware store. Let's do this: If you cooperate at the hardware store, we'll have time to stop at the playground on the way home. And if you are really good about getting in and out of your carseat and not dawdling as we leave the house, we can stay at the playground for five extra minutes." If she feels like she only gets the playground by whining, she'll become an expert whiner. If she feels like she can get it by cooperating, she'll become an expert cooperator.

  4. Don't reward whining. Don't give in and buy the candy. Be nice about it, but explain that the rule for parents is they can't reward whining. Of course, be prepared for her to switch gears and ask nicely. Then you might have to reward that with extra time at the playground, even if you can't agree to candy!

  5. Support her in pulling herself together and talking normally. It's fine to say "My ears don't hear whining. Can you ask me in a regular voice?" but try to say it warmly and supportively. Reward all her efforts to express herself positively.

Dr. Laura Markham