Whining and how to overcome it

Please can I have a pet stick insect?’ ‘I want to eat my dinner in the bath! ‘Why can’t we have donuts for dinner?’

Whining. It is the art of negotiation for children of all ages. Every parent has been confronted with a period of relentless whining and it can be mentally exhausting. From a toddler demanding more snacks, to a teenager asking to spend a night out with their friends, if whining was an interrogation technique, the MI5 would find their jobs a breeze. But why do children whine and how can you put a stop to it?

Why do children whine?

It is not to torture us, but actually a way of children verbalising their needs in a safe environment. It is unlikely an older child whines their way through class and gets the result they are looking for. Home is a child’s safe space, where they can let their guards down. Younger children have not yet learnt the art of negotiation and often a tired child has not got the inclination to put the effort into using this technique at home. Finally, the simplest answer is, it works. Often parents are worn down by the whining and they give in.

How can you put a stop to whining?

  • Realise how your response plays a part

Children are programmed to demand their parent’s attention. If they do not get positive attention, then they will often push for a negative reaction. Either way, the spotlight is on them. It has been scientifically proven that adults are quicker to respond to a cry or a whinge. It stresses and unsettles us. Therefore we are quicker to give in to a child’s needs. Try ignoring the whining and do not give in to their requests. It sounds so simple, but this is often the hardest thing to do when everyone just wants a peaceful home life. After some time, however, a child will realise that their behaviour is not achieving the outcome that they want.

  • Encourage them to change their tone

If your child quickly turns on their whiney voice when they want something, tell them you cannot hear them. Hands over the ears and asking them to speak clearly in their ‘normal voice’ should encourage them to ditch the whine and express themselves clearly.

  • Do the three-point checklist

Are they tired, hungry or over stimulated? Sometimes a young child will whine if they are emotionally struggling. At times like this, reassurance and a cuddle can be all that they need. Distraction can work wonders and can help a child quickly forget why they were whining in the first place.

  • Encourage them to problem solve

If your child is angry that they cannot go to the park, for example, encourage and work with them to find a different activity that they could do instead. Getting out the playdoh and getting stuck into something else will teach them how to overcome problems.

  • Compliment the good behaviour

If you spot your child playing nicely or asking a question politely, compliment the behaviour. This will show, over time, that they can gain your attention in a less dramatic manner!

It can sound like nails on a chalkboard, but whining is a very normal development phase and one that can stick around for a while. Even us adults are entitled to a whinge every now and again. Life throws at us all sort of problems and generates all types of emotions. It is not easy, even as an adult, to regulate our emotions, making it a very hard skill for young children to learn. Ignoring the very bad, supporting big emotions and not giving in to rude demands will put you all on the right path to ending the whinge. 

Karen Olney

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