Article at a Glance:
Children’s voices are typically sweet, with one terrible exception: whining. The characteristically nasal tone of a whining child can be a huge annoyance for parents, especially when it turns into habitual behavior. While whining is a nearly universal phenomenon in childhood, it doesn’t have to be the soundtrack of your life.
There are several ways to address whining, depending on its cause. Getting insight into the emotions that lead to your child’s whining may help you determine which path to take. But be warned—no method of modifying behavior is an overnight process. Imagine trying to isolate the source of one of your bad habits and attempting to change it in a single day! You’d never expect that to work.
Parental behavior shapes child behavior. Remembering when you’ve given in to whining or tantrums in the past will help you trace the source of today’s undesirable behaviors. Inconsistent or weak parenting opens the door to children looking to test boundaries. Children are smart, and if a behavior has worked for them in the past, they might persist with the same behavior until it gets results. Don’t despair, though. Past inconsistency doesn’t have to be a “point of no return” for your parenting. Simply be firm and consistent when faced with whining moving forward, and you should notice a difference in your child’s responses.
A running diary of when whining usually seems to crop up will let you know if there’s a pattern. Especially note how close the whining is to dinner or bedtime. Children need more sleep than adults, and they may have different times of the day when they’re hungrier than you are. Scheduling food or sleep according to an adult timetable might be a recipe for cranky, whiny children. Finding a good time to distribute a healthy snack or considering an earlier bedtime might nip feelings of helplessness and discomfort in the bud—and eliminate the whining along with them.
Is whining coupled with crying, repeated rubbing of the same area, or complaints of pain or discomfort? If so, there might be an underlying medical issue that your pediatrician should address. Any complaints that touch on physical condition, regardless of whether the child seems sick or injured, are worth investigating. These little people can’t communicate with the same specificity that adults can, so any habitual whining about “not feeling good” —no matter how vague or unsupported by visible symptoms—isn’t to be discounted.
Many times, whining is just a child reaching out for connection and attention. It’s not the most pleasant way to do it, sure, but they might be okay with eventual negative backlash as long as the spotlight is on them. Calm, unruffled attention can go a long way towards reminding the child how best to communicate. Model the rational behavior you want to see, and whining may lose its luster for a child acting out. That’s not to say consequences aren’t sometimes warranted, especially if the child is whining to steal attention from a sibling in need, or is being openly defiant.
Without set standards for what “good” speech is, it may be hard for children to understand what parents are looking for. Below are some ideas to help you set these speech boundaries at home:
A little whining is probably inevitable. Just chalk it up to childhood and expect it to eventually pass. But habitual nuisance whining shouldn’t be the norm, and a quick inventory of your rules and your child’s behaviors can help you figure out the best way to tackle the nasal nonsense before it conquers your child’s speech patterns.