Want Your Kid to Stop Whining? 7 Responses That Actually Work
My daughter is awfully mature for being just four years old. But when she wants something or feels wronged in some way, her voice veers into nasal territory.
She wants to watch another movie, she wants to wear her tutu to bed, she wants to open the garage herself, she doesn’t need to go to the bathroom, you didn’t give her the right “secret password” to get out the door in the morning when you’re already running late – and she didn’t actually tell you what the password is.
As she gets older, she’ll naturally get better at catching herself.
But in the meantime when the whining starts, I say: “I’m sorry, I can’t understand what you’re saying. Can you try saying it in a different way?”
Usually, she can right her tone on the first try, but on a tough day it takes two or three times for her to stop whining. This trick helped a lot, but it didn’t completely get her to stop whining.
Bonus: As a bonus for joining my weekly newsletter, get a free cheat sheet of 10 positive and effective ways to respond next time your child starts whining.
Depending on the day, I’ve displayed zero capability of patience and understanding by:
- Snapping back with: “Well, you can’t always get what you want.” (Made the whining worse.)
- Responding in a mocking whiny tone. (I felt horrible after.)
- Ignoring her and hoping she’ll stop. (Didn’t work.)
So I went in search of some new tricks to have at my disposal to get my kid to stop whining.
7 Expert Tips on How to Stop Whining (Plus a Cheat Sheet!)
Here are a few tips I culled from various parenting experts on how to stop whining from kids. For a free printable cheat sheet of these tips plus three bonus tips, scroll to the end of this post.
1. Nip it in the bud.
To avoid whining, [pediatrician Laurel Schultz, MD] advises parents not to wait until children are in distress to acknowledge them. “It’s important to respond to that first bid for attention, if you can,” she says. “If you are on the phone or in the middle of a conversation, make eye contact with your child and put a finger up, so she knows you’ll be with her in a minute. Then give your child your attention as soon as you can politely do so.”
2. Empathize before you lecture.
Don’t say: “You can’t always get what you want.” Yes, it’s tempting to start humming that Rolling Stones tune, but what you really need to do is show empathy – at least before the whining becomes a full-blown tantrum. “Say, ‘It does look like a fun toy, and I bet you’d really like it. Should we add it to your birthday list or would you like to save your allowance money for it?'” says [Toni Schutta, a psychologist and parent coach in St. Paul]. “This helps kids learn to delay gratification.” Plus, this response gives them hope and empowers them, and it teaches them the importance of saving money.
Note: This quote from parents.com is from an article titled “Your Kid, Only Less Whiny” that’s no longer available on the site.
3. Show your child what to aim for.
Replay for your child how unpleasant [whining] sounds, being careful not to mock. Don’t do this when you are both emotional. Do it at a calm time. Whine back: “Which do you like, Mommy’s sour voice (‘I don’t wanna make supper’) or Mommy’s sweet voice (‘Gosh, I’m tired. I could use some help’)?”
4. Let them know when they got it right.
“Parents always point out, ‘That’s not a nice voice’ but often don’t provide enough positive reinforcement,” says [Michele Borba, Ed.D., author of Parents Do Make a Difference]. You might say, “Thanks for using your normal voice” or “My ears love that voice.”
5. Don’t ignore the whining.
Put away the earplugs and take action. “Kids can whine all day, easily outlasting a parent who is trying to tune it out,” says Rene Hackney, Ph.D., a developmental psychologist in Alexandria, Virginia. “The longer you let your child complain, the more determined she’ll become to get her way.” Instead, help your child understand that her whining voice is very hard to listen to. You can say, “I can’t understand you when you whine. If you want to tell me how you feel, then I need you to use your regular voice.”
6. Be playful.
Here’s a foolproof magic trick to stop whining that’s worked for us when we’re out running errands. From cnn.com:
Debbie Granick of St. Louis uses a “whine” cup, or bowl or bucket or whatever’s at hand. “Whenever one of them starts, I say, ‘Here, go pour out your whine and bring me your regular voice.’ It gets a smile, or at least that ‘Oh, Mom’ look, and then they’ll usually change their tone.” She then thanks her child for using a “pleasant” voice. Or whisper your answer back. “You may have to whisper it several times, but your child will have to be quiet to hear you, and a lot of times he’ll mimic your tone of voice,” says Karen Shaffer, a mom of three in Highland, California.
7. Reconnect for a few minutes.
“Often whining signals it’s time to reconnect with your child.” To do that, [educator and developmental psychologist Becky Bailey, PhD] advises parents to spend some focused time together reading, cooking a meal, or doing something else the child enjoys. “A few minutes connecting with your child once or twice a day can make a huge difference for families dealing with difficult behaviors,” Bailey says.
This last tip is pure gold, which is why I created these Family Connection Cards based on the science of what actually works when you need to reconnect with your child. These cards remove the mental burden of figuring out how to connect with your child so you can just focus on nurturing your bond with your child. At any point during your day, you can pick a card to get a quick and simple idea for connecting.
And in just 10 minutes a day, these powerful cards will make your child feel absolutely loved and stop the whining and power struggles caused by disconnection.
Get Your Free Cheat Sheet
To help you remember these tips in the moment, I put together a free cheat sheet for you about how to stop whining. The cheat sheet includes all the ideas inside this post, plus three bonus tips:
- Get the cheat sheet. You’ll get the printable, plus join my weekly newsletter! Just click here to get it and subscribe.
- Print. Any paper will do the trick, but card stock† would be ideal.
- Hang your cheat sheet somewhere handy like on the fridge or on the bathroom wall where you escape when the whining drives you crazy.
Here’s a sneak peek of your cheat sheet:
Still need more advice for how to stop whining? Check out these tips:
- A Simple Trick to Run Errands With No Whining From Your Kids
- Warning: Read This Before You Take Your Kids Shopping
Before you go, get my FREE cheat sheet: 75 Positive Phrases Every Child Needs to Hear
What are your go-to tricks for how to stop whining from your kids? Or how about your whiny co-workers? Share your tips in a comment below!
Social media photo by Clemens v. Vogelsang.
Note: All information on this site is for educational purposes only. Happy You, Happy Family does not provide medical advice. If you suspect medical problems or need professional advice, please consult a physician.
Great tips. It’s easy for me to get stressed when my children whine, which is pretty frequent.
Preslaysa, I’m glad you found the list useful! I know what you mean about getting stressed when your kids whine. It’s like your stress hormones kick in, and you just can’t think straight!
It’s the sound. Whining is designed to get attention and it does. Like nails on chalkboard :/
I agree! We’ve reminded my now 6 year old daughter that whining just makes everything worse and whatever it is she is whining about (brothers not sharing, etc…) takes back seat to dealing with “whining when talking should be used.” I’m def going try the “Whine cup” toss trick! Funny thing is she’s a perfect angel and well behaved anywhere else (School/ grandma’s house). People are very surprised when she whine w/ parents around! HELP!!
I need to work on #4. My two year old has been driving me crazy with her whining the last two days. Thanks for the tips.
Jelli, that is definitely my problem area too! And not just for whining, but for like…everything. :-) I hope the tips help. I’d love to hear how it goes, if you have time to swing back and leave another comment!
When my daughter was a toddler I used to tell her to hide the toy or item she wanted behind another one on the shelf & tell her so no one can get it and that helped get out of stores with less tantrums when we leave 90% of the time she doesnt remember the toy she is now 14 along the years it has helped because she has asked for the things she wants & most of the time she puts things back & doesnt want them but she also reminds me the same thing that I don’t need this or that also when my son was elementary age I told him what we are going in the store to get & nothing else first before we went in & that helped.
Fabulous post … so glad not just me who has to navigate a password in and out of the house everyday and claims to not needing the loo ever :-) Must be a four thing …
Thank you for stopping by!
The password thing is *still* happening at 6 years old, haha. Less frequent, but still!
Thank you, Christina!
Wonderful post, incredibly helpful – I’m definitely pinning this one :)
Carrie, you are too sweet. :-) Thank you for stopping by to leave a comment…and for pinning the post!
I’ve used most of these but not the whine cup. I’ll have to try that!
Shay, isn’t that such a clever idea? I love it!
I haven’t tried that particular trick yet myself because the no whining poster worked so well for Abby, but I’d love to hear how it works for you. :-)
There’s a little less whining these days but hopefully I’ll remember to do it when it does happen. Using a simple “Try Again” has worked pretty well for us so far. :-)
Shay, I love that simple “try again” approach! It’s usually the simplest tricks that work the best, I think. :-)
So glad I found this post (via pinterest!). My 18 mo. old just started whining a few weeks ago. Not the “I’m an infant and I’m whining to tell you something” kind–the “I’m almost a toddler and learning to whine when I don’t get my way” kind. It’s so hard not to get frustrated. But hopefully I can start using these tips now to make the future whine times easier on us both (and dare I hope, cut down the amount to come)!
Zoe, I’m happy to hear this post found you at the right time! Hopefully you’ll be able to use one or two of the tricks to cope with those whining situations and escape unscathed. :-)
My littlest just turned a year, so my whine-free baby days are certainly numbered! I did all this research when my eldest was 4, so I’d love to hear how it goes using some of these tricks with a younger child.
Awesome post; I’m a younger mom with little patience for whining sometimes, so it’s nice to know that I’m not the only one. I will have to incorporate these ideas!
Maggie, thank you for your sweet comment! I hope the post gave you some ideas you can use. Now, if only I could figure out how to magically create more patience for myself… :-)
Thanks for this great tool. The kids I watch are doing the whiny behavior big time now. They are age 3 and 5 and I wish I had this when they were 2 to avoid a few yrs of frustration.
Jean, I’m glad to hear this list is proving useful for you…even if it crossed your path a couple years later than you would have liked. :-)
Found this on Pinterest and found it very helpful! I really love that you are real about this too, sharing your own missteps – ALL which I’ve been guilty of as well. The “I can’t understand what you are saying.” technique works well with my 2.5 year old. :)
Laura, thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts! Hearing that you’ve had the same struggles makes me breathe a little sigh of relief that I’m not alone. :-) I’m off to check out your site now!
Not a fan of the expert tip “nip it in the bud” to me, that teaches the child its perfectly fine to interrupt an adult conversation, that she is and will always be the most important thing, even if its just to ask what time it is, or what my favorite color is. While I agree that everything a child says is important to that child, I believe children should be taught to be patient and if I am busy with whatever they will wait. I will of course get to my child as fast as I can. Giving into them sets them up to expect immediate results for every demand, comment, or concern, and that’s just not how the world works! I start teaching patience from the beginning.
If an adult interrupted your conversation you would politely tell them to wait, or just answer their question if it is as simple as “what time is it?’ what is so hard about offering the same respect to your child. Children learn patience eventually you don’t have to treat them like they are sub-human for the lesson to stick.
LOL, if an adult interrupted my conversation, I’d look at them as if they were growing a 2nd head. How rude and disrespectful! You are not treating a child like they are subhuman just because you expect them to wait and not be rude.
Someone who begins a rebuttal by laughing at another’s opinion can not be considered even remotely familiar with politeness.
I remind my nephew that it’s okay to be frustrated, but he has to use talking words. I also tell him to take a deep breath to help him calm down before he speaks. Validating his feelings definitely helps him.
Some great ideas to try. Thank you .
I agree w/putting a finger up when adults are busy, it def teaches them addt’l paitence & lets them know they can’t always be the center of attn! So happy to have stumbled across this esp right now. My daughters nearly 2 1/2 now & we are bordering on unknown territory for this newbie mother! I have been quilty of whining bk, & did feel like an immature u-kno-what…so helpful & comforting to know others have expierenced the frustration as well. I love the normal voice & letting them know u can’t understand unless they use their reg voice.
Great tips! My husband and I decided to choose our battles! My toddler is only 2… If she wants to wear her skirt in bed we just let her…iT really works for us!!
By chance, is that poster a printable? or even a temporary tattoo? I know two boys who could use it! ;-)
These are great! I’ve been known to say, “Well you can’t always get what you want!” too and yep, definitely doesn’t work! Pinning so I remember these awesome tips!
I have a question- I have a 20 Month old who doesn’t constantly whine but does when she starts getting tired. She also always whines when we get to the store/grocery store because she wants to get out of the cart. i tried different tricks but ultimately i give in and let her get out. its just a hassle all the time. what suggestions can you provide to me?
My two year old is really showing her anger/ frustration. Sometimes its a whine or yelling or hitting. I’m trying to get her to say (or yell) “I’m MAD!” or “i’m sad” or “I’m tired.” That seems to get rid of some of the bluster and cuts down on hitting. As for the grocery store, I think they get bored and want to move around. I try to have her help as much as possible. So we put apples in the bag together, mushrooms, and even let her pull canned goods off the shelf. We sing songs, count and point out the fish in the deli. It takes longer, but she is more engaged and happy. I figure it’ll probably take just as long if she is miserable anyway. Ps. If she does get frustrated, I totally encourage her to yell, “I’m mad!” in the middle of the store and let her push against me in the cart. After about 2 embarrassing minutes she’s done and needs a hug. I hope this helps…
I’ve tried to let her hold something that is not breakable, and keep switching it. First hold a bag of carrots, then a box of cereal, as we go down each aisle. Ask her if she wants to hold X, and if she wants to switch to the next thing. Save the best for last – a box of chips or pretzels or some treat she likes. It might not last for the whole trip, but at least you get in 2 or 3 more aisles :) Don’t start ‘holding’ until she gets antsy. Or bring a book or small toy – change it for variety.
Does this also work with whiny husbands?
If your kid whines because they feel powerless it is probably the same reason your husband whines.
thank you for this!
Great article. I will use all of your suggestions. Just a side note… you probably moved from an apartment to a house. Apartment is a home as well!
I would always look at my kids with a puzzled look and say, “I’m sorry, I don’t understand Whinese. You will have to use your happy words.” Then go about my business and then they would ask me without whining.
I always struggled with this when my kids were small, until I read a great tip that suggested I treat the whining as a foreign language I did not understand, cleverly labeling it ¨”Whine-ese” (rhymes with “Chinese”), I would simply tell them, “I don´t understand Whinese. Tell me in a language I understand” (which, they learned, was asking without the whiney voice). It worked like a charm!
I think these are great ideas! Any suggestions for older children?
Awesome post! Thanks for the great tips!! #7 resinated with me the most, must mean I can work on that area ;) You should link this up to our Weekend Wind Down Link party this Friday. Opens 4pm MDT. Would love for you to connect and share these great tips!
Britni from Happy Mama Tales
I have a houseful of whiners at times, so I can relate! Thanks.
Thank you really useful tips which I’ll try