How to Stop Kids From Whining
Thu, February 2, 2023

How to Stop Kids From Whining

When your child whines, fulfilling their request probably won’t change their emotional climate in the long run / Photo by: Vasiliy Budarin via 123RF


If parents were asked to create a list of the things they hate, what would they write? Perhaps whining would be at the top of the list. Hand In Hand, a parenting platform, says that whining is one of those behaviors that a child tries sooner or later. Some kids fall into the whining but can’t seem to bring themselves to climb back out. 

When your child whines, fulfilling their request probably won’t change their emotional climate in the long run. This might even help parents have a sense of inner peace, but their child’s mood will sink back to an “I am unhappy" tone once again. Sending your child back to their room or punishing them wouldn't be any better either, because they'll probably just zone out or act out in the future. Whining truly is difficult to address.

Why Do Children Whine? 

Children are engineered to make their parents act on their biddings, wrote Jessica Grose of New York City-based newspaper The New York Times. "Children are good at co-opting whatever arsenal of behaviors they have,” noted James A. Green, Ph.D., a University of Connecticut psychology professor who studies early social development.

The scholars Grose spoke with acknowledged that whining was an under-researched area in developmental psychology and it was likely a culturally universal phenomenon. Rose Sokol-Chang, Ph.D., who studied whining at Clark University and is currently working at the American Psychological Association, said that certain types of monkeys whine. To Dr. Sokol-Chang, both monkeys and children use whining “to bridge a gap with an adult.” 

Whining usually peaks in toddlerhood and decreases as the child matures. However, Dr. Sokol-Chang observed that adults are known to whine to their parents. What makes whining different from other types of vocalization is how annoying it is. This is why whining is a successful tactic in drawing a parent’s attention. Although whining does sound awful for anyone within earshot, Dr. Sokol-Chang explained that this action is reserved for individuals that the children are attached to. 

Take note that your child is not out to get you when they start whining. They’re not trying to manipulate you. In fact, they’re just trying to tell you that they need your help. You may feel manipulated and helpless since whining triggers feelings of anger, resentment, and exhaustion. Sometimes, you don’t get to think logically either. But don’t worry, there are ways to help stop your child from whining.  

Whining usually peaks in toddlerhood and decreases as the child matures / Photo by: Anton Unguryanu via 123RF


What Should Parents Do?

1. Ignore the Behavior

Pediatric medical psychologist Dr. Dunya Poltorak says that disciplining your child for whining can backfire. According to Dr. Poltorak, scolding and disciplining them can reinforce the behavior. Your child is looking for a response and when they don’t get a positive response from you, “they’ll go for the negative one.” 

Your little one is looking up to you as their model. So, if you’re yelling at them, you’re teaching your child to reciprocate the same reaction. Dr. Poltorak recommended “finding a calm moment and sitting down with your child.” You can say you love helping them and listening to their concerns, reminding them that you can’t lend a helping hand unless they stop whining or screaming.  

Afterwards, follow through and ignore your child when they ask for something in a whiny voice. Dr. Poltorak warned that your child’s whining may escalate once you start ignoring it. Be prepared “to stay the course.” Jane Nelsen, Ed.D., co-author of Positive Discipline for Preschoolers acknowledged that parents need to have “a lot of self-control.”  In time, they’ll realize whining will not elicit any reaction from you. When your child asks for things nicely, be sure to reinforce their good behavior.   

2. Observe Your Child’s Behavior

Dr. Sokol-Chang suggested observing your child’s “particular behavioral signs that tend to lead to a whine.” This way, you can give them positive attention before they start whining. However, this tactic is not always possible, in particular when your child begins whining when you start talking with another adult. 

Whining is enough to make anyone angry and illogical. For parents, it’s tricky to stop a child from whining / Photo by: szefei via 123RF


3. Fulfill Your Child’s Request Once 

Whining will definitely get your attention for a moment or two. Initially, you won’t really know whether the thing they are requesting will help them feel connected and capable—or not. If their request sounds reasonable to you such as a glass of water, then go on ahead. However, if more whining follows, then the problem lies in their emotional “weather.” 

4. Show Them Who’s Boss

Ideally, this should be used as a last resort. Nicholas S. Thompson, who collaborated with Dr. Soko-Chang and is an emeritus professor of psychology and biology at Clark University, offered this strategy to stop kids from whining. Dr. Thompson whines back at his grandkids, telling them that he’s the expert on whining and claiming they’re not doing it right. The moment Dr. Thompson whined, his grandkids stopped with a funny look plastered on their faces. 

Whining is enough to make anyone angry and illogical. For parents, it’s tricky to stop a child from whining. To do so requires immense patience and self-control. You’ll also need to praise your child for their good behavior, which helps them become a better person.