When the Whining Won’t Stop
When the Whining Won’t Stop

Key Points

  • Whining is an important communication skill.
  • Whining (usually) happens shortly after a child’s broken sense of connection to their parent or caregiver.
  • Whining is backed up feelings!

This month we’re dedicating all our blog posts to behavioral problems, why they occur, and evidence-based solutions to tackle them head-on. With the holidays quickly approaching it’s the perfect time of year to address head on the inevitable whining and (lack of) listening that gifts, candy, and festive events somehow produce. [Spoiler alert: we’ll be dedicating an entire blog post to listening. #praisehands]

Let’s get right into one of the most common concerns for parents: whining.

Would you like some cheese to go with that whine? Okay, okay – we’re still working on our joke set list but there’s one thing we know for sure: whining is one of the most common complaints we hear from parents – and if we’re honest, a constant struggle within our own families.

Does this sound familiar?

  • Repeated pestering demands
  • High-pitched phrases that slowly turn into screams
  • Oh – and the infamous pout

We hear you, parents – whining drives us nuts! Perhaps it is our parents’ way of getting back at us from when we ourselves were young (just kidding!).

What is Whining, Really?

All jokes aside, whining, while it is superbly gut-wrenching, is an important communication skill.  Our children are telling us something big – it’s their way of expressing exasperation.

Usually, whining happens shortly after a child’s broken sense of connection to their parent or caregiver. The ordinary things parents must do – like feeding little brother, cooking dinner, or talking to a friend on the phone – can eat away at a child’s sense that he’s connected and cared about. For small children in a big world, feeling disconnected gnaws at them. Then it starts: “I wannaaaa cooookkkiiieee!” Have you seen it? I think I saw it three times while getting ready for school this morning!

When a child feels or senses being disconnected, any task you give them can bring up jumbo-size feelings of powerlessness. Like:

  • Getting dressed when they want to stay in their pajamas
  • Brushing their teeth when they’d rather play with the cat
  • Saying goodbye
  • Going to school

The list goes on. And it doesn’t seem rational, right?

All in all, whining is backed up feelings. Children have not learned how to handle this emotional back-up and then – WHAM! –  the whining starts.

Just remember – your child is trying to communicate a real need here (you may not agree or understand – but they are communicating).

What To Do About Whining

You have to stop the nails on the chalkboard. Children whine because it produces results. As humans, we repeat behavior that is reinforced. So, when a child whines about something and you respond, you have reinforced the whining.

How do you get it to stop? It’s not that simple!


1) Don’t provide the payoff.

Whining is an attention seeking behavior. Do not provide the attention and do not give into the demands. If you gratify the demand, the whining will simply continue. Every time you say no and then give in, the whining behavior will become more intense and more frequent. This will take a little bit of time to reverse. But it’s ok – be consistent, be strong, and stick to your word. It will get better.


2) Determine the reason for the whining.

Sometimes there is no clear reason for the whining. The child can be overtired or hungry or just plain overwhelmed. In these instances it is best to tend to your child’s need for comfort and understanding. This will help them to know you are there and listening and they are not alone.


4) Focus on the positive.

If the whining is occurring to get your attention, focus on giving attention for the behavior you want to see. Throughout your time with your child, try to focus on the positive experiences you are having and give the attention for those. Don’t wait until the moment of whining occurs to give the attention for that.


5) Stay calm.

Above all else, stay calm. If you get upset, your child will feel it and it will compound the problem. You will be less tolerant and your child will be upset because she will feel like she is in trouble. Calmly, let your child know that you won’t respond to whining – you’ll just simply walk away. When he uses a normal voice, you’ll be happy to talk to him.


Remember, whining is your child communicating something that is real to them. Staying calm and thinking about your reaction will help to change your child’s behavior more than anything. You can do it! You are not helpless or powerless. You can teach your child that you are there and will be there for them.

We’re a phone call away if you need more guidance or exercises. Better yet! Join us this Spring for our Spring Parent Coaching program. Call us to be the first to know when we open up seats! Call: 301-718-1716; Click here to email.

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