Whining, Ages 1 to 3

How can I get my child to stop whining?

That depends on why he's whining. If he's hungry, tired, or bored, give him what he needs: a snack, a nap, a suggestion of something to do, or maybe just a hug. Then you can deal with curbing his fussy behavior and preventing it in the future.

Suppose your child is whining for something he shouldn't have. Try these tips:

  • Just say no -- and don't back down. If you give in to keep your child quiet, he'll learn that whining works and do it again.
  • Teach your child to express himself in the right voice. Even if he's genuinely worn-out or hungry, remind him to use words and a tone that tell you rather than nagging you. Any time he whines, tell him that you'll be glad to listen, only he has to use his normal voice.
  • Whine back. This is an exception to the golden rule of not doing unto your child what he does to you. When your child hears you whine, chances are he'll start to laugh. Don't whine for too long, though, and don't tease your child; do it just enough so he can realize how annoying and unnecessary it is. (If your toddler seems confused when you try this, don't persist; he may not understand that you're kidding.)

You also need to make an ongoing effort to prevent situations that lead to whining. The truth is that toddlers need something almost all the time -- a trip to the potty, a drink of juice, some playtime or cuddling. Make sure your toddler is well rested and fed before you head to the grocery store or settle down to chat with a friend. Your overarching goal is to take care of both your child's needs and your own, so neither of you is stressed to the point where your child feels that whining is the only way he can get your attention.

Why do toddlers whine?

Generally speaking, for good reason: They need an adult to feed them, put them down for a nap, play with them, or snuggle them. And with the best of intentions, parents sometimes push toddlers beyond their limits. Even a day at Disneyland can set a youngster up for whining if it means his nap time is two hours later than usual.

But toddlers also whine to assert their independence. That's why a simple no when your child asks for a candy bar may trigger a string of why-nots until you, too, become frustrated and crabby. If your child whines to manipulate you, it's important to work on modifying his behavior and improving the way he communicates.

What's the difference between whining and something more serious?

If your child begins to cry or strike out, he is no longer simply fussing. With experience, you'll learn to distinguish the repetitive, high-pitched sound of whining from the escalating cries of a tantrum in the works. If you hear or see that your child is losing control, drop what you're doing and pick him up. Calm him, and tell him to use words to tell you what's bothering him.

Is it wrong to ignore my child when he's whining?

No, but make sure you're ignoring his tone and not a genuine need he's trying to express. Tell him gently that you won't listen to his whiny voice but you'll be glad to talk to him as soon as his regular voice is back. This technique is both reassuring and instructive for your toddler.

Is it ever okay to give in?

Sure, if you didn't realize how much your child needed something -- a filling snack or for you to watch him go down the slide -- until he started fussing. But don't succumb to manipulative whining. If your child is needling you for ice cream or a new toy and you already said no, stick to it. He'll be better off in the long run.

References

Frances L. Ilg, M.D., Louise Bates Ames, Ph.D, Sidney M. Baker, M.D., Child Behavior: The classic child care manual from the Gesell Institute of Human Development. HarperPerennial 1992.

American Academy of Pediatrics, HealthyChildren.org. Toddler. http://www.healthychildren.org/ENGLISH/AGES-STAGES/TODDLER/Pages/default.aspx

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