How Can I Stop the Whining?


Q: What do we do about constant whining? We have two children, and no matter what we do, it never seems to end. Help!

A: Webster’s Dictionary defines whining as “to cry in or utter a high-pitched, long drawn-out, plaintive sound.” Ask any parent you know, and most can add to this definition: never-ending fussiness, unpleasant attitudes, crying, whimpering, pestering and so on. As a parent you ask, when will this whining ever end? What can I do? How can I make it stop?

As with any of the other phases you have been through as a parent, always keep in mind that this too shall pass. Be encouraged! With your love, understanding and patience you can help your children learn ways to more effectively communicate. You must consistently send the same message: that whining will not be rewarded. Some of it, of course, will simply take care of itself as your children develop and mature. However, in the meantime, what do we as parents and professionals do to handle this terrible thing called whining?

For starters, remember that the better your children feel each day, hopefully the better they will act. In general, make every effort to ensure that your family’s lifestyle is as wholesome as possible.

• Are your children getting enough sleep each night? Are you making sure that your child is napping (if age appropriate)? You may be surprised to find that just by adding an earlier bedtime for your children, the next day is much more pleasant and manageable for you and your family.

• Are you encouraging and making healthy food choices for your children?

• Are you able to spend some time alone with each of them each day? Unfortunately, in this frantic, stressed-out, busy world in which we are tossed about, many parents struggle with just finding the time to quietly interact with their children each day. And, children will resort to many different tactics to get your attention.

Once you are doing everything you can to make sure that your children feel good — they are well rested, eating healthy food, spending quality time with their parents —what could they possibly still find to whine about? Oh, many, many things! This is where your understanding and patience come into play. As you know, toddlers and young children are growing and developing, and they simply do not have the vocabulary in place or the thought process to adequately describe their emotions and feelings. Each day will, of course, bring new words and ways of expressing their feelings and thoughts. Be patient. You should hear less whining the older your children become.

As a parent you can encourage more positive ways for your children to deal with negative emotions and thought patterns. Try not to ever give in to the whining! It may seem hard at that moment, but keep telling yourself that in the long run, if you consistently hold your ground and encourage other avenues of expression rather that whining, you (and your child!) will be rewarded. Always tell your child that if they will use “their words” as opposed to whining and crying, you can help them much quicker simply because you can understand them. If asking them to use their own words doesn’t help with the situation you may just have to ignore them. If you don’t give into their demands when they whine, they will eventually get the message and use their normal tone of voice. And, anytime your children are not whining and using a normal voice, be sure to thank them for being so polite with their requests.

Chronic whining may also be an indication that you simply need to spend some one-on-one time with your child. Sometimes we think we are spending time with our children, when in fact we are so programmed to multi-task, we may actually be doing two or three things at the same time. Your intuitive little ones always know when there is more on your radar than just them!

One of my co-workers was recently discussing her 3-year-old daughter and the issue of whining. In order to establish some ground rules, the parents decided to designate certain areas of their home as “No Whine Zones.” It puts boundaries on their daughter’s behavior but allows for some whining, too, which is normal.

And, make sure that you are setting a good example. Do your children overhear conversations you have either on the phone or with your spouse or friends in which you are complaining and whining? They will model your behavior.

So, do your best to never give in to the whining. Stay consistent with the messages you send your children. Encourage them to use their words. And keep in mind that most children will do some whining at some point — just don’t let it get out of hand. And, as with all parenting issues, try to keep your sense of humor — just like your parents had to with you.

Sherri Wall McMillen is the marketing representative for Moses Cone Health System Behavioral Health Center. Please submit your questions to “Is My Kid OK?” via e-mail to

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