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Child Care Challenges: What If My Child Is Whiny?

Learn what to do when your kids whine and how to get them to stop.

Child Care Challenges: What If My Child Is Whiny?

Every parent and babysitter dreads the super whiner. Whether it’s your child making all the noise or the kid you see every week at the park, the super whiner cranks up the pitch and volume until any adult in hearing distance wants to give the child anything just to get him to stop. Then he wants something else and the whole scenario repeats itself.

Is this ever your child?

We know how frustrating it is to have a child who is whiny, so we asked experts Jenna Bilmes, an early childhood social and emotional development specialist and founder of Arizona-based Kids from the Inside Out, and Dr. Ross Greene, author of “The Explosive Child” and associate clinical professor in psychology at Harvard Medical School, for some pointers on breaking the cycle of whine.

1) Don’t Despair!

Even if your child is a super whiner — the kind who could melt paint off a wall with his whine –there’s hope. According to Bilmes, whining is a fast and often very effective way for kids to get attention. Try to ignore it and not respond. Walk away if possible with a calm response like, “I can’t hear you when you whine.”

2) Decode the Problem

Just like when your child has a tantrum, you have to get to the root of the problem, says Dr. Green. “Generally we are wrong in our assumptions.” Parents need to not jump to an exasperated state, but instead think what could also be causing the whine. Has your child been dragged through the grocery store and is now whining for candy? You might think that the candy is the source of the problem, but it might just be that the child is tired or hungry or wants to be held.

3) Don’t Cave!

Most parents can’t ignore the whining — that’s why it’s so common and effective for kids. And as hard as parents try to ignore it, if they cave even once, whining becomes a challenge of wills to see who can outlast the horrific noise. But if you ignore it for a while and then ultimately give in, you’re unwittingly teaching your child not only how to whine, but also how to do so for a very long time without giving up. Not a lesson you want to encourage.

4) Fake Incomprehension

If your daughter is whining because she’s getting hungry for dinner, Bilmes suggests looking at her and saying, very quietly, “I don’t understand you.” Say it low and slow, she suggests, and treat your pesky princess as if she’s speaking a foreign language.  Eventually, she will echo your tone and speak normally. When that happens, act happy that you can finally understand her, saying, “Oh! You’re hungry for your dinner! Now I understand you and know what you want!” By doing this, you’re shifting your attention to and positively reinforcing the behaviors you want to see repeated.

5) Model a Good Tone

If you want your kids to cut the whining, make sure you don’t do it either. When you’re out, pay attention to when other kids whine and listen to how they’re answered. If the adults around them are using a whiny tone to tell them to stop, they may continue to mirror what they hear.

Julia Quinn-Szcesuil is an award-winning freelance writer and a mom to two girls. She lives in Massachusetts and has written for local and national publications.