Why does my child whine?
1. It has worked in the past to get them what they want.
2. It is an effective way to get your attention (doesn’t have to be positive attention).
3. They are wanting to assert independence and make some of their own decisions.
4. They don’t know any other way to express their needs and wants
5. They are frustrated, overwhelmed and feeling emotional.
It’s a guarantee that as a parent you will be faced with a phase where your child whines in an attempt to get what they want. While whining doesn’t do any harm to you or anyone else, it can become a very irritating behaviour and can be difficult to ignore. Children can be very persistent in trying to get what they want.
While ignoring harmless unwanted behaviour is usually a great strategy it often isn’t an option for whining. Instead you can use it as an opportunity to teach your child the correct way to ask for something. Depending on their age and how you have reacted to whining in the past you can either gently remind them to ask properly, or prompt them with the correct voice and ask them to repeat it back to you. It is up to you to decide whether they then get what they are asking for, even a nice voice doesn’t mean they automatically get what they want. You can praise them for asking nicely, but explain that they can’t have that right now and give them a reason for it.
Sometimes a child will whine to get your attention, because they may have learnt that it is a really effective way for you to stop what you are doing and talk to them. The attention they receive doesn’t have to be positive, even being reprimanded can reinforce the behaviour. Any attention is better than no attention for a three year old. To reduce the possible reinforcement of a big reaction, respond quietly and calmly with the directions of how they need to ask properly. When they ask for something nicely let them know that you appreciate them using their nice voice, even if they don’t get what they have asked for.
Part of growing up includes gaining some independence and the power to make personal decisions. You can give your child small responsibilities around the house to help them feel like a valued contributor and boost their self-esteem. A child who has a sense of importance and maturity is less likely to feel the need to whine. Remember to keep the chores age appropriate and achievable, and offer praise when they are completed successfully. You will probably need a lot of patience while they are practising new skills, but in the long term it will help everyone.
A stressed out and frustrated child will often revert to whining when they are feeling overwhelmed with emotions. They might need help to complete a task, or some support with managing the emotions they are feeling. It helps to see a situation from their perspective and try to understand what is causing them to whine. A cuddle can never go wrong for a child who needs a bit of extra support.
As with every behaviour strategy you can reduce whining by being consistent in your reactions, calm in your responses and compassionate towards the emotions your child is experiencing.