Watch my free discipline workshop today for more clarity, connection and cooperation
A place where I discuss all things related to toddlers and motherhood!
As a clinical psychologist, published author, and mother to two cheeky young children, I get it. I’ve spent YEARS researching and filtering through the noise online, so you don’t have to.
One of the biggest parenting triggers is whining. Whining is a behavior that triggers alarm bells in our brain that says, “This needs to stop. This needs to go away right now.” And when this happens, it makes it hard to think clearly and step into our best parenting selves.
But before we talk about how to address whining and how to cut back on whining, we first need to talk about why it happens.
It’s hard to shift or change a behavior if we don’t understand the root cause. Because once we understand the root cause, then we can address the behavior.
Commonly, whining is a behavior children do when they get overwhelmed with intense emotions or frustrated because they’re trying to reach a goal. They want something or need something and they’re not getting it fast enough, or they’re not getting it at all. And they’re overwhelmed with that feeling of frustration.
Another common reason children whine is that they have an unmet need. Maybe they’re feeling stressed. Maybe there’s a lot of change in unpredictability in the environment, and they need more connection or more attention. Maybe they’re overtired, and they haven’t had enough sleep or rest during the day. Maybe they’re overstimulated or under stimulated. And they don’t know another way to get that need met, so kids resort to whining.
The biggest reason children whine is that it works.
Nothing gets our attention better or quicker than when our children whine. So it’s a behavior they’ve learned has worked. Whether it’s positive or negative attention, it doesn’t matter. It’s getting the need met that matters. And so over time, children learn that whining works.
And it’s not that they’re trying to be mischievous or up to no good. It’s that we’re humans, and humans are adaptive and resilient. And so we pick up on what behavior works and what behavior doesn’t.
And finally, it’s important to remember our children’s brains are growing at an incredible rate, especially in the first 5 years. So it’s not uncommon to experience regressions like behavioral regressions, (aka, whining) or sleep regressions. Their brain is in constructive mode, and they’re learning and having new developmental leaps. And so they will regress in other skills that they’ve learned, whether it’s potty training, speech, behavior, sleep, etc.
If we get triggered by whining, we need to recognize that and have a plan for what we’re going to do in that moment to stay calm.
It’s going to be very hard to help our child regulate their emotions if we’re dysregulated ourselves. Dysregulated adults can’t regulate children.
I’m not asking you to reach for perfection, but I want you to work on regulating yourself before you show up in the moment with your child. I have a free resource that can help: A Simple Guide to Becoming a Calmer Parent.
It helps to step back and see beyond the behavior. Ask yourself:
Because that’s commonly what it comes down to. It’s an unmet need, or it’s a lagging skill (meaning they don’t have the skill to deal with it at the moment), or a combination of both.
They need our help and guidance to learn the skill or fulfill that need.
This all depends on how dysregulated they are and their speaking abilities. But you can help them learn how to use their words. You can say something like:
If they’re still whining or complaining, that’s your cue to help them regulate their emotions a bit more because they’re not at that place to talk. Help them regulate by saying to them:
But they may become more dysregulated when you prompt them. So take a step back, regulate your emotions, and also then help them regulate their emotions.
When they finally say, “Snack, please,” pounce on that:
Go back to reconnect, but lead with thank you.
That is a powerful teaching moment that we need to do over and over again. What we’re teaching them is it’s okay to feel frustrated or get overwhelmed. But we can use our words to get what we need because we want to shape our child’s behavior to go to this.
A big part of shaping this behavior is being responsive when they use their words. If we aren’t responsive, your child is going to learn, “Words don’t work because Mom or Dad is not listening to me. They’re not taking me seriously,” and then the whining starts.
Sometimes we can’t always meet their needs in the moment, but we want to try to always recognize when they verbalize something they need and table it if we need to. This can look like:
We want to use our language to let them know we recognize they’re trying to tell us something or that they need something. We want to validate that even if we can’t always meet that need in the moment. That’s okay too. We still recognize it, such as:
This is a muscle that we’re building, so it’s going to take a lot of repetition. And we have to practice with our kids and coach them through these moments. We have to put up a boundary of:
It takes a lot of patience and a lot of trust in the process.
And remember, we won’t always be able to meet their wants or needs at that moment. And that’s all right. It’s okay for them to feel frustrated. That doesn’t mean we change our boundaries.
After your child is regulated and you’re outside of the moment, that’s the time to teach.
We teach inside of the moment, but a lot of the teaching is going to come outside of the moment in everyday life.
One of the best ways to teach is using books, and I have book suggestions for you:
When you notice moments when your child is calm and is regulated in using their words, acknowledge their effort and appreciate it. This will also help shape the behavior.
Give conditional yeses when you can. What I mean by this is say they’re asking for more screen time. Instead of saying “No,” you can make a plan for the future:
We want to shift our “no” to making plans instead because that helps them feel a bit more secure, like they have some control, and they know what’s coming next.
If you need more help with whining, complaining, or other issues, I have a FREE workshop, How to Get Your Kids to Listen Without Yelling, where we work through discipline and setting consequences with intention and respect. I provide you with the tools you need to create a happy home where cooperation happens without the struggle.
You’ve got this,
Love this? Don’t lose it!
Click below and save it to your Pinterest!