Does Whining Drive You Crazy?!

I’ve never met a parent who likes—no, is even okay with—whining. For me it was like nails on a blackboard. Many parents don’t know of another torture that would be worse.
Whining is as developmental and normal in a toddler’s life as discovering the pleasure of saying “no”. Don’t think about teaching your child not to do it. Do think about ways you can help yourself deal with it calmly and perhaps shorten it’s duration. Here are a few:

1. Don’t call it whining. It’s very hard to talk to your child about whining without being critical and blaming. “Stop whining.” “I can’t hear you when you’re whining.” These proclamations will not get you what you want. It may only make it worse.

2. Make a compassionate association when you hear it. Can you instead think about how frustrated your child is feeling—even if it’s over something you won’t allow. I once heard Aletha Salter say that whining is stuck crying. A child who whines is actually trying hard not to cry so the cry gets stuck. Sometimes validation of the frustration will bring on the crying which eliminates the whine—for now.

3. Don’t try to teach anything during the whining. As soon as the whining is past and you hear your child’s “normal” voice, name it. “There’s the Sarah voice. What shall we name the voice you use when you feel really frustrated?” Let your child name it. Then when you hear the whine, you can say, “I hear the ‘—-‘ voice. Do you need to use that or can you use the Sarah voice?” You might name a couple of different voices you use as well.

4. Give the connection that is really needed. If you don’t think you have to teach your child to stop whining, when you hear it, get down to your child’s level and validate the frustration. “You really wish I could do what you want. I know I would want that too if I were you. Will you take a hug for now?”

5. Pay attention to the times your child doesn’t whine. It’s so easy to focus on the tones you hate to hear, but how often do you acknowledge the times your child does a good job coping. Whenever your child doesn’t whine when she asks for what she wants, notice it. “You really know how to ask for what you want. I like that.”

Know that this too will pass—even though it may seem like an eternity.

4 thoughts on “Does Whining Drive You Crazy?!

  1. Bonnie,
    This is so helpful. Thank you. I hear myself resist the whining, and it actually just sounds like I am whining when I do that! I love having some concrete actions to take in the face of a sound that I find so unbearable at times. It is true – when I recognize it for what it is – I love this: stuck crying – I have gone towards my daughter with an open heart, loving words and compassion, and it almost instantly shifts her voice tone and the tone of the moment. It just feels better too.
    Thank you, always,

    1. So glad Shea. And how great you can make the shift and have her respond. But the fact that it feels better to you is what counts.

  2. Hi Bonnie, Will the above steps work on whining with a 7 yr. old? I DO try, #2 above, compassion. But often my son’s whining goes on and on and…. Example, today, a Sat., he wanted a cinnamon roll for breakfast. Daddy offered him the choice to make cinn. rolls from scratch, later. Later, because Daddy was really hungry and homemade cinn. rolls would take too long. Son wanted me, Mommy, to go to the store to buy the Pillsbury kind. As I was not dressed, and had not had breakfast, we (parents) said we could buy them later, for breakfast tomorrow. His whining went on for AT LEAST 15-20 min.!!!! Eventually we (parents) told Son we were not going to respond to his whiny request/demands for cinn. rolls. And eventually whining stopped.

    At other times, his whining, after hearing compassion, then jumps to a new topic. e.g. “I don’t WANT to go to 2nd grade!!!!” Me/mom: “Yes, starting a new grade can be hard.” Then he’ll move to “I don’t WANT to ride the van by myself to school. I want to be with FRIENDS!!!” Help!

    1. Usually with a 7 y.o. the reasons for whining are very different. I think your response to the whining for cinnamon rolls was appropriate. Acknowledge his desire, understand it, but do not engage in the battle to give him the message that if he goes on long enough you will give in and get him the cinnamon rolls. Ask yourself if he has the capacity to wear you down. Nothing wrong with changing your mind when it is your idea or when your child gives you information you didn’t previously have. But do not change your mind simply because it’s easier or because you can’t stand the meltdown. Then you’re back to zero every time.

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