I think every parent can relate to feeling instantly irritated by whining. It’s totally normal behavior for toddlers, but it’s also super annoying to listen to, right?! Ha! Getting our attention/getting a reaction from us is what kids are hoping for when they whine.
1. Don’t let it show that it bothers you. Ignore the whining, but still stay present with your child (so you’re not completely ignoring your child, just the behavior). If you give into whatever they’re whining for or if you have a reaction to the whining, you will reinforce their whining.
2. Encourage them to use their normal voice. Say something like “I can see you need something and I’m having a hard time understanding you. Please say it in your normal voice.” And if your child keeps whining, ignore it, and then a minute or so later try asking them to speak in a normal voice again. The key is to remain very calm and unattached to the whining.
3. Empathize and Validate Feelings. Sometimes kids whine because they don’t think you know how much they want something. In their minds, if you knew how much they want that cookie, you’d give it to them. So instead of repeating “No, you can’t have a cookie right now.” Say, “You love cookies. They’re your favorite, huh? I bet you’d eat them all up if I let you.” When your child feels heard and understood, they will have an easier time facing the reality that they don’t get what they want.
(And if your child starts to lose it and tantrum, allow the emotion to be expressed. Whining is sometimes the lead up to a big emotion coming out and when children have those big emotions, the best thing they can do is release it.)
4. Give your child positive 100% focused attention when your child is NOT whining. Children whine for attention, so their need for attention needs to be filled in appropriate ways. Five minutes of 100% focused attention means more to a child than an hour of your distracted multitasking attention. If your child has been whining all morning and stops for one second, use that as your opportunity to engage with your child, to be that positive momentum, and to reinforce the non-whining behavior.
5. “Asked and answered.” This is a great phrase to use when you’ve done all the above steps and your child is still whining and begging for the same thing. Say in a calm, neutral tone “asked and answered.” Only say it one to three times before remaining silent until your child stops whining.
But again, whining is a totally normal behavior. And even with a lot of positive attention, kids will still whine. If we can stay calm and don’t reinforce the behavior through our reaction or through giving in, the whining behavior will eventually stop.
In my course, Family Elements, I have an entire section all about how to redirect misbehavior when our children’s goal is attention. I go in depth talking about it + share role play videos demonstrating what to do. There will be tons more information in my course so be sure to sign up to get on the waitlist.